Google, Apple face scrutiny from Republicans over data privacy

Doris Richards
July 11, 2018

The letters, signed by the committee's chairman and the heads of three subcommittees, asked for details on how iPhone and Android devices collect audio and location data.

"While we recognize that third party email apps need access to Gmail data to provide various services, and that users consent to much of this access, the full scope of the use of email content and the ease with which developer employees may be able to read personal emails are likely not well understood by most consumers", they wrote.

Four senior U.S. House Republicans sent letters on Monday to the chief executives of Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Google parent Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) asking questions about location data and mobile phone privacy practices and the handling of customer data.

Apple declined to comment for this story, while a spokeswoman for Google did not immediately respond to questions.

In addition, the lawmakers have questions regarding the data collection occurring through smartphones.

Google, for its part, confirmed to Quartz a year ago that its Android devices previously had been transmitting location information back to the company even in instances in which users had turned off that functionality. The hearing followed news that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with ties to President Donald Trump's campaign, accessed information from as many as 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge. The letters, made public by the committee on Monday, said the companies may be using consumer data, including location information and recordings of users "in ways that consumers do not expect". The letter to Cook, who has for months been an outspoken critic of Facebook's attitude toward privacy, asks if Apple is engaged in similar practices.

"The privacy thing has gotten totally out of control", he said.

The letter to Alphabet noted that in June 2017, Google announced changes to Gmail that would halt scanning the contents of user email in order to personalize ads, saying it was making the change in the interests of privacy and security. In a blog post, Google didn't dispute the practice but said that it vets the developers and allows users to control the access developers have.

Members of Congress also asked for more information on what audio data may be collected by smartphone voice assistants, even when they have not been "triggered" with a phrase such as "Hey Siri" or "Ok Google".

Lawmakers asked for answers by July 23.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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