CNET reports that Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) is calling on the FTC to investigate Apple’s privacy practices, particularly with respect to location-based services. In a letter to FTC Chairman John Leibowitz, Inslee expressed concern about users’ lack of awareness of “location-aware technology.” He writes:
“Citizens expect to be able to know the extent to which their private information is being collected. In this case, Apple’s only apparent disclosure comes buried in the vaguely worded language of a lengthy terms and conditions agreement. Furthermore, agreement on the part of the user is apparently granted simply by ‘using location-based services on your iPhone.’ The fact that no iPhone user was aware of this activity until two tech-savvy researchers stumbled upon it illustrates the lack of adequate disclosure.”
Inslee’s letter is only the most recent statement of concern by a member of a Congress about the privacy implications of location-based services. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, has scheduled a hearing for May 10 on mobile technology and privacy, at which representatives from Apple and Google will testify along with officials from the Department of Commerce and the FTC. Sen. Jay Rockefeller reportedly also plans to hold a hearing in May on mobile privacy, but no date has been set.
It is noteworthy that, thus far, members of Congress appear only to be concerned to with the makers of operating systems for smartphones, and not the makers of “apps” that often use location-based information to provide services to smartphone users. This parallels a similar narrowing of focus in the most prominent lawsuit arising out of alleged tracking in the mobile context, In re iPhone Application Litigation. As we noted last week, although the original complaint named several app makers as defendants, the amended complaint has dropped those companies from the suit.