Feeds

Apple and Google wriggle on US Senate hot seat

Hearing on privacy, patents, iPhones, drunks

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

'I have here in my hand...'

After Davidson told him that the cock-up was unintentional and that the company was "working with regulators around the world to figure out what to do with [the collected data] and in many cases we've destroyed it," Blumenthal asked: "Why would the company then submit a patent application for the process – that very process that it denies having used?"

Davidson, to put it kindly, wriggled. "I'm sorry I can't speak to the specifics of this very patent. We were not aware that this was a topic for today's hearing. But I will say that generally we submit patent applications for many, many different things. Often they are fairly speculative. We probably do – I don't know – hundreds of patent applications a year. Certainly scores. And it would not be surprising at all that in this area that is so important, we would be looking for innovative ways to provide location based services."

Davidson then got back to his original Street View theme. "As we have said publicly, it was a mistake, and we certainly never attempted to collect payload information."

Both Davidson and Tribble also received a bit of a surprise when Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) began his questioning by saying: "I want to ask about a slightly different aspect of balancing technology with public safety, and that is the smartphone applications that enable drunk driving."

Schumer went on to describe applications such as Fuzz Alert Pro, Checkpointer, and Tipsy which are designed, as he put it, to "endanger public safety by allowing drunk drivers to avoid police checkpoints."

Schumer reminded Davidson and Tribble that he and three other senators had written to Apple, Google, and RIM, asking them to take down such apps. RIM complied, but Schumer said: "I was disappointed that Google and Apple haven't done the same, and I'd like to ask you how you can justify to sell apps that put the public at serious risk."

Davidson's response was that "we do try to maintain openness of applications" in the Android Marketplace, and that "applications that share information about sobriety checkpoints are not a violation of our content policy."

Schumer followed up by asking: "Would you allow an app that provided specific directions on how to cook methamphetamines?" Davidson responded by saying any evaluation would be "fairly fact-specific", but that "any applications that are unlawful or that [are] directly related to unlawful activity, I think we do take those down."

Having said that, however, Davidson said that Google would reevaluate its Marketplace policy to determine whether checkpoint-avoidance apps could be taken down.

Tribble personalized his answer to Schumer's direct questioning as to why Apple hasn't taken down checkpoint-avoidance apps. "As a physician who's worked in an emergency room I've seen firsthand the tragedy that can come about due to drunk driving," he said.

He then told Schumer that Apple is "carefully examining" the apps in question, and has discovered that some of them are "publishing data on when and where the checkpoints are that are published by the police departments," an argument that Schumer called "a weak reed."

Tribble said that it's sometimes difficult to determine an app's intent, but that if an app's intent is "to encourage people to break the law, then our policy is to pull them off the store."

Schumer asked Davidson and Tribble to get back to him in a month with a progress report on the status of checkpoint-avoidance apps, and in a later statement on his website said that the two companies had agreed to do so.

As he wrapped up the hearing – long after Schumer's exchange with Davidson and Tribble, and after more testimony, conversation, evasion, and grandstanding about digital privacy and related matters – Franken summed up by saying: "As I said at the beginning of this meeting, I think that people have the right to know who is getting their information and a right to decide how that information is shared and used."

However, he added, "After hearing today's testimony, I still have serious doubts if those rights are being respected in law or in practice."

And with the bang of a gavel Franken ended what was just the latest round in the eternal American back-and-forth between voluntary corporate compliance and government-enforced consumer-protection regulations, and between a business' legitimate desire for valuable information about their customers and an individual's arguably constitutional right to personal privacy. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SMASH the Bash bug! Apple and Red Hat scramble for patch batches
'Applying multiple security updates is extremely difficult'
Apple's new iPhone 6 vulnerable to last year's TouchID fingerprint hack
But unsophisticated thieves need not attempt this trick
Oracle SHELLSHOCKER - data titan lists unpatchables
Database kingpin lists 32 products that can't be patched (yet) as GNU fixes second vuln
Who.is does the Harlem Shake
Blame it on LOLing XSS terroristas
Researchers tell black hats: 'YOU'RE SOOO PREDICTABLE'
Want to register that domain? We're way ahead of you.
Stunned by Shellshock Bash bug? Patch all you can – or be punished
UK data watchdog rolls up its sleeves, polishes truncheon
Ello? ello? ello?: Facebook challenger in DDoS KNOCKOUT
Gets back up again after half an hour though
SHELLSHOCKED: Fortune 1000 outfits Bash out batches of patches
CloudPassage points to 'pervasive' threat of Bash bug
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.