Facebook, Google and Apple Appear before Senate Subcommittee on Mobile Device Location Privacy Issues

On May 19, Facebook, Google and Apple appeared before a Senate subcommittee on Capitol Hill lead by Senator John Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, and Senator John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, to discuss claims they are not adequately safeguarding their customers’ location privacy on mobile devices.

This stems from an investigation by security researchers and the Wall Street Journal disclosing that these companies are tracking customers’ locations without their knowledge on cell phones and other mobile devices, such as the iPad and comparable devices on the market. The investigation by the Wall Street journal also revealed that about 50% of the 101 top mobile iPhone and Android apps gave out the location of the user without their consent.

Rockefeller, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation stated, “I think anyone who uses a mobile device has an expectation of privacy, and sadly that expectation is not always being met.”

At the hearing, both Senators called on Congress to pass new laws to protect smartphone customers from having their locations tracked. The bill would focus on Internet privacy giving customers more control over their data, as well as providing specific guidelines to protect consumers in an unregulated mobile app industry.

Kerry stated, “New rules protecting privacy on smartphones and on the Internet will create stronger consumer confidence in those industries.”

Strangely enough, a similar hearing conducted on May 10 by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law by Chairman Al Franken, D-Minnesota, looked into the same issue of location and information privacy on mobile devices. Franken stated, “These breaches of privacy can have real consequences for real people.” He later stated, “I’ve realized that our federal laws do far too little to protect this information. Prosecutors bringing cases under the federal anti-hacking law often rely on breaches of privacy policies to make their case. But many mobile apps don’t have privacy policies. And some policies are so long and complicated that they’re almost universally dismissed without being read.”

Information privacy while on the Internet has always been and continues to be a large issue in the U.S.  The recent popularity of smartphone apps has added to the complexity of the problem. Unfortunately, there isn’t much consumers can do at this time besides refraining from using some of these popular apps that are infringing on our privacy.

Does the convenience of mobile applications justify the sacrifice of our privacy?

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