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Schumer joins call for privacy probe of Apple, Google phones

March 05, 2012|By David Sarno
  • Huawei Technologies Co.'s Ascend D quad mobile phone runs on the Android 4.0 operating system.
Huawei Technologies Co.'s Ascend D quad mobile phone runs on the Android… (Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg )

The privacy heat is getting turned up on smartphone giants Apple Inc. and Google Inc.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) joined the ranks for federal lawmakers asking the iPhone and Android makers for answers about the way their devices collect personal information.

Schumer's questioning came as more legislators have been pressing the companies and federal regulators to clarify smartphone privacy protections after a series of incidents in which it appeared that the companies were leaving users' data vulnerable -- or siphoning it themselves.

Schumer asked the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation of reports that iPhones and Android devices can "steal private photos and customer address books."

"When someone takes a private photo, on a private cellphone, it should remain just that: private,” Schumer wrote in a statement. “Smartphone developers have an obligation to protect the private content of their users and not allow them to be veritable treasure troves of private, personal information.."

Schumer's letter to the FTC comes after weeks of disclosures showing that popular iPhone applications appear to have substantial access to the data stored on users phones, and that some of those apps have actually downloaded address book contacts without permission.

Google also came under fire for appearing to circumvent or ignore a privacy protection built into Apple's Safari browser and Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. Soon after, Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Cliff Sterns (R-Fla.) asked the FTC to look into Google's apparent end run around privacy protections built into browsers.

Separate New York Times reports last week raised the possibility that Android and iPhone application developers could download users' private photos if they chose to.  The report did not cite any examples of applications that were currently slurping photos.

Last month, Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) penned a letter to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook, requesting information on Apple's policies for its iPhone developers, and suggested that Apple could be doing more to secure users' information. 

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