Apple and Google wriggle on US Senate hot seat
Hearing on privacy, patents, iPhones, drunks
When questioned by US senators at a hearing on digital privacy, Apple and Google execs spent most of their time successfully bobbing and weaving, but were thrown off-balance when asked about location-grabbing patents and drunk-driving apps.
Tuesday morning's hearing – "Protecting Mobile Privacy: Your Smartphones, Tablets, Cell Phones and Your Privacy" – was called by Senator Al Franken (D-MN) to get input from industry and industry watchdogs as to the state of digital privacy, and to begin discussions about possible government regulations.
"When I was growing up," Franken said in his opening statement, "and people talked about protecting their privacy, they talked about protecting it from the government. They talked about unreasonable searches and seizures, about keeping the government out of our families, out of our bedrooms. They talked about 'Is the government trying to keep tabs on the books I read and the rallies I attend?'"
A fresh look needs to be taken at digital privacy, Franken suggested, because although there are clear laws on the books intended to keep the government from overreaching, things are far more murky in the corporate sphere, where "large corporations that are obtaining and storing increasingly large amounts of our information."
In a slap at Apple's recent iPhone-tracking imbroglio, Franken provided an example of what he characterized as a lack of transparency in corporate information gathering. "If it came out that the [department of motor vehicles] was creating a detailed file on every single trip you'd taken in the past year, do you think they could go one whole week with out answering a single question from a reporter?"
The problem, Franken said, is that the legal framework surrounding digital privacy is both weak and murky, without clearly defined regulations on the collecting, share, and selling of users' personal information.
"We do not share personally identifiable information with third parties for their marketing purposes without our customers' explicit consent," he continued, "and we require all third-party application developers to agree to specific restrictions protecting our customers' privacy."
Carefully choosing his words, Tribble added: "Second, Apple does not track users' locations. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so."
Exactly what is meant by "track user locations," however, is the hard nut. The company's April 27 "Apple Q&A on Location Data" noted: "The iPhone is not logging your location. Rather, it's maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone..."
As pointed out by one witness at today's hearing, however, that "one hundred miles" statement might be a bit disingenuous. When asked his opinion of Apple's statement that the company doesn't track individual users, Ashkan Soltani, identified as an "Independent Researcher and Consultant" and who has researched web privacy for The Wall Streeet Journal, said: "In many cases, the location that this data refers to is actually the location of your device or somewhere near it. While it's true that in some rural areas this can be up to a hundred miles away, in practice – for the average customer, the average consumer – it's actually much closer, in the order of about a hundred feet, according to a developer of this technology, Skyhook."
Google director of public policy Alan Davidson also answered questions on location information. "We use information where we can provide value to our users and we apply the principles of transparency, control and security," he told the assembled senators. "We are particularly sensitive when it comes to location information."
According to Davidson, "We believe that this approach is essential for location services: highly transparent information for users about what is being collected, opt-in choice before location information is collected, and high security standards to anonymize and protect information. Our hope is that this becomes the standard for the broader industry."
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), however, wasn't easily mollified. In the time-honored senatorial tradition of using props during a hearing, he waved a copy of a 2008 Google patent application, "Wireless network-based location approximation", when grilling Davidson about the Street View Wi-Fi slurp uncovered last year.
Next page: 'I have here in my hand...'
Robocop was an accurate prediction of the future
Private police forces, governments being controlled by corporations, corporations with more rights than either the Government or ordinary citizens, environment being poisoned in the grab for more and more profit and the right to privacy long since dead. Stop complaining and spend your money citizen
On another point:
'generally we submit patent applications for many, many different things. Often they are fairly speculative'
And thus summing up the whole problem with the American patent system.
You want small government?
How about starting with smaller corporations? THEN it makes more sense to have smaller government, too.
I'm convinced the REAL problem is that most of the professional politicians in America are bribed with campaign contributions. The largest bribers are the largest companies. Sometimes they are just buying insurance against intrusions (I think this is more true when they donate to Democrats), but mostly they are investing in favorable legislation (with most GOP and neo-GOP donations). They do NOT want more competition and more freedom or anything like that. What they want are LARGER profits, and that's how the law gets written.
There are some ethical politicians, but they are generally removed at the next election, and more so in these new days of unlimited corporate donations. There are also many highly ethical businessmen, but they are NOT the ones who are bribing the politicians.
Retained data is the problem
@"We do not share personally identifiable information with third parties for their marketing purposes without our customers' explicit consent".
They collect and *retain* our data, then they say is it ok to share this retained data with other companies. They have it the wrong way around. It should be they ask us if its ok to retain our data in the first place, then they can share it, but only if we have given them permission to retain our data in the first place.
There's a huge different between instantaneous data sent to them and retaining and accumulating our data for weeks, months, even years.
All this retention of everything we say, everywhere we go is the real problem. They can data mine for example instantaneous search requests no problem, but they are not satisfied with that, they want to store everything we say and do and that is taking it way to far.
But they know they can extract a lot more from retained our data and that is why they seek to retain it. There is no upper limit on what they seek to do and legally that needs to be put in place because otherwise they will take it to any extreme they can get away with.