Lawmakers Question Apple And Google’s Care For Privacy In Letter To CEOs

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Eric Lieberman Deputy Editor
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Four lawmakers, all Republican, are highly skeptical of Google and Apple’s data management actions and capabilities, according to letters they respectively sent to the two companies’ CEOs.

All part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including leadership roles, Reps. Greg Walden of Oregon, Bob Latta of Ohio, Gregg Harper of Mississippi and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee want to review their practices and see if they violate Americans’ privacy expectations.

“Recent reports have indicated that consumer data gathered through cell phones, including location information and recordings of users, may be used in ways that consumers do not expect,” the letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook reads.

“Recent reports have indicated that consumer data, including location information, recordings of users, and email contents, may be used in ways that consumers do not expect,” reads the appeal to Larry Page, CEO of Google parent company Alphabet, echoing almost the exact same message. “We seek Google’s assistance in understanding the accuracy of these reports.”

For Apple, they list several of their apparent, potential grievances, citing a report that suggests “third party applications have access” to “‘non-triggered’ audio data from users’ conversations near a smartphone.” To support its urgent request for information, the public officials’ list claims made by Apple that it cherishes its customers’ privacy way more than others. (RELATED: Apple’s Bid For Chinese Acceptance Grows As It Moves Data Storage To Foreign Country)

“However, users have consistently had access to apps through the App Store that you have highlighted as contradictory to Apple’s value, including Google and Facebook apps,” the letter from Walden, Harper, Latta and Blackburn continues.

As they note, Apple said in June that it is changing its policy so that certain apps can’t obtain data in contentious ways, like through an online friend — something that got Facebook in deep trouble. Now, because of such a change and reports of what other tech companies like Google are doing, it wants specific details for what iPhones are capable of, specifically when it comes to knowing a lot about their users.

“Could Apple control or limit the data collected by third-party apps available on the App Store?” is one question.

Another reads, “When the Bluetooth capabilities on an iPhone are disabled, is that phone programmed to collect and locally store information through a different data-collection capability, if available, regarding: a. Nearby cellular towers; b. Nearby WiFi hotspots; or, c. Nearby Bluetooth beacons?”

And just like the introduction to the letters, the questions for Apple are very similar to the ones proposed to Google. There are some differences, as some of the referenced reports are directly related to Google, like the damning report from The Wall Street Journal’s Doug MacMillan that says Google lets app developers sift through people’s emails for money.

“In the context of free services offered by third parties” — the ones reportedly given access to users’ personal communications — “these practices raise questions about how representations made by a platform are carried out in practice.”

“How many outside software developers, or third parties, are permitted to access a user’s email contents with or without consent on Gmail,” a somewhat unique question for Google reads, albeit in a way that is comparable to one presented to Apple.

Blackburn, Latta, Walden and Harper say they hope to have official responses no later than July 23. (RELATED: There’s A Newfound Hatred Of Silicon Valley)

Apple and Google did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s media inquiry in time of publication. Facebook did not reply to TheDCNF’s request for comment, specifically as to how it feels about others in Silicon Valley receiving critical treatment.

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