Al Franken clumsily asks Apple and Google to write app store privacy policies

Thu, May 26, 2011


Senator Al Franken is chomping at the bit in his efforts to lead this mobile OS privacy crusade into deep waters. Despite having Apple and Google show up to DC twice to essentially reiterate what had already been said in a press release, Franken now wants both Apple and Google to write up “clear and understandable” privacy policies for all apps available in each company’s respective marketplace.

At the hearing, I asked Dr. Tribble and Mr. Davidson whether Apple and Google would commit to requiring that all applications in the Apple App Store and Android App Market have clear and understandable privacy policies. I am writing today to renew this request, and ask if each of your companies would be willing to adopt this simple first step towards further protecting your users’ privacy.

What’s absurd is that Franken is just beating a dead horse now. Then again, maybe he still doesn’t have a firm handle on what he’s talking about.

Consider this.

A week after the location-tracking “scandal” broke, Apple issued a detailed and thorough press release explaining exactly what type of information it was tracking, why it was tracking it, who it was being shared with etc.

Following that, Apple sent senior executive Guy Tribble to appear before a congressional hearing on mobile privacy where he Tribble proceeded to describe in as basic and clear terms as possible that Apple is not tracking user location and that no data stored can be traced back to any single user or even any single device.

And yet, after all of that, Franken at the close of the hearing quipped:

The people have a right to know what information they’re sharing, with who, and how that information is shared and used. After this hearing I still have serious doubts about how that information is protected in law and practice.


Franken seems like a nice enough guy, but it’s starting to look like he either has misguided concern or is pimpin’ for political points.

“Apple and Google,” Franken explained, “have each said time and again that they are committed to protecting users’ privacy. This is an easy opportunity for your companies to put that commitment into action.”

In fact, Franken during the congressional hearing directly asked why Apple and Google don’t already have privacy policies in place and available for consumers to read.

Tribble responded,

That’s a great question. What we do now is require developers to provide notice when they use user data. We don’t specifically require a privacy policy, but that’s probably not enough. People won’t read that. I agree with the previous panel that we need to put this information in the user interface. Apple puts a little purple arrow on the screen when an app is using location data.

So yes, sure, Apple and Google can come up with some long drawn out boiler plate manifesto on user privacy, but as Tribble astutely points out, people aren’t going to read that. What’s more important, and what Apple already does, is alert users that location data is being collected via the user interface.

It’s just too bad that our elected leaders can’t seem to grasp that basic point.



2 Comments For This Post

  1. Gweedo Says:

    Frankin is a total hypocrite– he voted for the “stimulus” bill and obamacare– both of which gutted privacy protection for health care information.

    Plus, he has no jurisdiction here- the first ammendment makes all his threats criminal extortion.

  2. Peter Says:

    The complaint is more about when.

    Apple mentioned in their press release that they’ve been using my iPhone to track cell towers and WiFi networks in my area and send this information to Apple. Yes, it’s appropriately anonymized so that it’s not like someone at Apple can say, “Hey, Peter’s in a strip bar!” I get the benefit where if I travel someplace, my phone already knows what cell towers it can use. This is a good thing and I have no problem with it.

    The problem I have with it is that I wasn’t told that my phone was doing this. If someone had said, “Hey, Peter, we’re building a giant database of cell tower and WiFi networks. You can help us by sending this information. You mind?” I’d’ve probably said, “I have no problem–go for it.” But nobody asked. And the only reason we found out was because of some scandal where Apple actually ended up admitting that, “Yeah, we’re doing it, but it’s for your benefit! Really! Trust us!”

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