FTC urged to investigate Apple and Google over mobile privacy

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Senator Charles E Schumer has called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Apple and Google over allegations that iPhones and Android devices are allowing third party access to users' photos and address books.

According to reports, if an Apple user allows the application to use location data - normally required for GPS-based applications - they also allow access to the user’s photo and video files which can then be uploaded to external servers.

In the case of Android-based applications, the user only needs to allow the application to use internet services as part of the app for third parties to gain access to photo albums, Schumer complains.

"It sends shivers up the spine to think that one’s personal photos, address book, and who-knows-what-else can be obtained and even posted online – without consent," he says.

If the technology exists to open the door to this kind of privacy invasion, then surely technology exists to close it, and that’s exactly what must happen. The rapid innovation in technology, which is wonderful, must not also become an open invitation to violate people’s privacy willy-nilly."

In his letter, Schumer concedes that many of the ways in which apps are using data do in fact violate the terms of service from Apple and Google. However, he points out, these violations have come to light only through the work of third parties, implying that Apple and Google may not be doing enough to monitor and enforce the terms of service.

"Specifically, I hope you will consider launching a comprehensive investigation to explicitly determine whether copying or distributing personal information from smart phones, without a user’s consent, constitutes an unfair or deceptive trade practice," he writes to the FTC. 

"In addition, I believe smartphone makers should be required to put in place safety measures to ensure third party applications are not able to violate a user’s personal privacy by stealing photographs or data that the user did not consciously decide to make public."