U.S. Senate Democrat Al Franken presses Apple, Google to require privacy policies for apps

U.S. Senate Democrat Al Franken has released the following press release, verbatim:

U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) today pressed Apple and Google, the owners of the two biggest application stores for mobile devices, to require clear and understandable privacy policies for all of their apps. If the companies agree to this request, consumers who purchase apps from Apple or Google’s app stores would have a clearer understanding of what information is being collected about them and with whom it’s being shared. The letter is a follow-up to questions Sen. Franken asked of witnesses from Apple and Google at a recent hearing of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, which Sen. Franken chairs.

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

A recent study found that of the top 340 free apps, fewer than 20 percent included a link to a privacy policy, meaning that users who purchase apps have little knowledge about who is getting their personal information, how it’s being used, and who it’s being shared with.

The letter reiterates the request Sen. Franken made to Dr. Guy “Bud” Tribble, Apple’s Vice President of Software Technology and Alan Davidson, Google’s Director of Public Policy, who both testified at a May 10 hearing of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law called Protecting Mobile Privacy: Your Smartphones, Tablets, Cell Phones and Your Privacy.

To read the full text of the letter, click here.

Protecting Minnesotans’ and Americans’ consumer rights and privacy has been a priority for Sen. Franken since he came to the Senate. In addition to holding the recent hearing on mobile technology and privacy, Sen. Franken also sent a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking him to address privacy concerns about the company’s iOS 4 operating system that stored users’ location information in an unencrypted format on users’ mobile devices and home computers.

Last year, Sen. Franken pressed Attorney General Holder to incorporate an analysis of geotags-information about a person’s location that is embedded in photos and videos taken with GPS-equipped smartphones-into an updated stalking victimization study connected to the National Crime Victimization Survey. This March, Sen. Franken also led several of his Senate colleagues in urging Facebook to stop plans that would have permitted third party application providers to access users’ home addresses and phone numbers. He also asked the U.S. Department of Justice to clarify its interpretation of a critical federal law that protects personal data after a security breach at Epsilon Data Management and allegations that several popular smartphone applications were gathering and disclosing users’ private information without their knowledge or consent.

Source: Official Web Site of Sen. Al Franken

Related articles:
U.S. Senate Democrat Rockefeller: Totally unregulated apps have to be regulated – May 20, 2011
U.S. Senate Democrat Leahy introduces electronic communications privacy bill – May 18, 2011
Apple, Google, and Facebook to face 2nd U.S. Senate hearing on May 19 – May 17, 2011
Apple open to lawsuit over location data collection – May 11, 2011
Apple, Google detail mobile privacy policies before US Senate subcommittee – May 10, 2011
Recap of Apple and Google’s testimony before Senator Al Franken’s mobile privacy hearing – May 10, 2011

48 Comments

    1. Well, I’m not an American, so I may be wrong, as far as I know, this guy is the chairmen on that subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law (says so in the letter). Therefore, his primary job, while in senate, in addition to representing the will of his constituents, is to investigate issues related to privacy, technology and the law, as they relate to each other; not to deal with the budget/debt/finances or any other issues not related to privacy, technology and the law.

      There are other committees and subcommittees whose responsibility is dealing with budget/debt/finance and such matters. This is NOT one of them.

      As I said, as a non-American, I may be wrong…

        1. And on behalf of all Minnesotan’s, I sincerely apologize for allowing Stuart Smalley to have a voice… he’s still trying to prove that he’s “good enough”.

          1. Funny that you should think you are apologizing/speaking for all of Minnesota. I believe that he got the most votes in your state, putting you in the minority.

      1. Investigate issues that are directly relevant to privacy laws not engage in a witch hunt. Frankenstein should grow a brain or get one transplanted in.

      2. If I’m not mistaken, this is a subcommittee that Senator Franken created him self and put him self on. It’s a good way to make it look like he’s doing something (even though he’s not). As ken1w said, his primary job is representing his state as a Senator, not this lame bullshit. This is political busy work.
        It’s something he can put on his resume and it might look impressive. “I helped protect the privacy of every American from evil big businesses!” Yeah…those evil big businesses, with all their evil jobs, that are being driven out of California because it’s such a hostile place to do business.

        1. “If I’m not mistaken…” Why yes, you actually ARE mistaken. Take 5 minutes to Google senate committee and subcommittee rules and you might learn something. Franken could not just create it himself and put himself on it. That’s not how it works.

          Instead of knee jerk reaction to anything the opposing side does, consider for a moment how you’d all react if you were concerned that it were Google and Microsoft, or Google and RIM. What the senator and others are asking is that Apple and Google take this opportunity to put into place privacy rules regarding apps.

          This does nothing to harm Apple. What this does it to protect user privacy and to prevent app authors from collecting user data.

          Why do you think this is a bad idea?

      3. … Senator and a Democratic Senator have joined together to modify the “Patriot Act”. They want to remove the ability of law officers to obtain personal – PRIVATE – information without oversight. Similar to Franken’s quest.
        I agree. IF the companies are gathering information on me, I want to know what they are doing with it. Is that terribly unreasonable? If you think so, WHAT is your disfunction?

    1. Unless somebody keeps an eye on the Google, nothing would prevent them from dutifully storing ALL private info they ever had about EVERY person who ever had a g-mail account or an Android phone. And nothing would prevent them from selling that info to the highest bidder.

      Other countries have much stricter privacy regulation. America generally prefers free market, so privacy has always taken the back seat there.

      1. The problem is, neither Senator Franken or any of the others in this subcommittee knows anything about technology so they’re not solving squat. They don’t know how to examine the way Google collects actual private info from gmail and other such services. They’re all stuck on this non issue of crowd sourced anonymous location data. Apple on the other hand never collected private user data without telling the users what was happening. So this subcommittee isn’t doing anything but wasting folk’s time and money.

      2. Oh, and as far as America and it’s free Market, it worked really well till we started making it less free. Don’t get me wrong there does occasionally need to be some sort of oversight, like dealing with abusive monopolies and such. However, America had one of the best economies around till the free market started getting fucked with. Case in point, the sub prime mortgage crisis, in which the government incentivized the banks to accept loan offers they normally never would have. A large portion of these loans defaulted and now the US finds it’s self in the shit hole it’s in now.

        1. That’s overly simplified, according to my knowledge (again, reminding everyone, I’m not an American).

          While banks were initially incentivised to make sub-prime loans, had it remained an exceptional practice as it originally was, it would have never become a financial debacle it did become. The problem happened when such sub-prime loans became the source of derivative instruments (credit default swaps and such), which rapidly started generating dramatic revenue for financial institutions, all of this built not on solid financial instruments, but on these sub-prime mortgages. Due to complete lack of any regulation, financial institutions were able to leverage these mortgages for developing and selling these derivative instruments, and then leverage these derivative instruments to sell more derivatives. Immense greed and no regulatory oversight brought about the calamity; not the “incentivised” sub-prime mortgages. The mortgages may have been the tiny fuse; the greed was the three tons of explosives that blew up.

        2. That’s actually the complete opposite of what happened. Strict regulations of the banking industry were relaxed under the Clinton administration, which led directly to the mortgage crisis, which led us straight into recession.

  1. Aside from it being bullshit hand-waving by electeds who really need to be doing stuff that’s more important than this, I think it’s a great opportunity for Apple. It’s in-line with their attitude toward user privacy and there’s no way Google will do it without being dragged kicking and screaming.

    1. More importantly, any meaningful privacy restrictions can seriously interfere with Google’s business model (of selling private data to advertisers), where Apple loses practically nothing even with serious restrictions on data collection and sharing.

    1. You must have some super secret contrary evidence that shows regulation has been a good thing?

      The government Constitutional requirement is to ‘provide’ for common defense and ‘promote’ general welfare. This is a huge distinction between promote and provide, and yet 99% of politicians’ time is spent trying to twist out some new regulation which provides opportunities to form commitees with a pecking order and increased lobbying/fundraising opportunities. Al Franken isn’t doing anything new, all he wants is to use Apple’s popularity to get his name mentioned. He’s an entertainer, his primary experience is in cultivating PR around his name, it’s how he got this far.

      You want a privacy policy, look to the manufacturer. If they don’t have one, don’t buy their product. Seems like regulating this, takes away a key area for software companies to compete. I don’t use google products for this very reason.

      I think if Al gets his way, then we need regulation requiring Senators to pass standardized competency exams on a given subject before being seated on related committees. Since law enforcement is already required, I think all government employees should be drug screened as well. I think a combination of both would help keep people like Al from so easily committing criminal acts of stupidity.

      Somebody might want to send Franken a memo that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires all carriers to collect and store all this “personal information” he’s so worried about. Again, he doesn’t care about any of this, all that’s important is that he can grab headlines by saying ‘Apple’.

      1. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1 of our Constitution says Congress shall have the Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; etc.
        Your ” huge distinction ” only exists in your mind.
        It says to provide for both
        Read it again and stop spreading lies

  2. I do like this suggestion. Apple has a lot less to lose here than Google on the privacy front. But more importantly, and the reason I could get behind it, it seems to be asking for an easy to understand privacy policy for the consumers. Apple has been using quite understandable legal terms of late, particularly their exceptionally well writ, modern wording of the App submission developer policies.

    Meanwhile, from the consumer end, it is still difficult for many of us to read the fine prints on the lengthy (51 pages long I believe) iTunes legal document.

    I would find it practical, and reasonable to be presented with a pop-up on every App I download and/or execute, to ask explicitly for my permission to access and transmit certain private information to Apple (or have that option under settings), Google or the 3rd parties. I should have the option to select, Yes, No and/or Tell Me More for further explanations as needed.

    In other words, when I say, don’t transmit any of my information to anyone, I want my phone to stop transferring data via Apps that do, or cripple those Apps in that private mode. I know better than to expect that when using the browser.

  3. Goddamn Democrats as usual have an innate tendency to turn technology into a socialist issue. They should send Frankenstein to communist Russia to legislate their transparency laws. One less idiot in Congress to babble on issues they know next to nothing of.

    1. But I just must answer. James, he should be wasting his time reading and posting on forums like us big time winners here. Right? He should really get a life like us, shouldn’t he? How dare he try to do his job when he clearly is dumber than any of us Mensa members here. Why don’t you get elected and you can run things. Must be easy to get to be a senator for you and me if he can do it. Right?

      1. umm…none of us is being paid a six figure salary to represent a state. Also posting on a forum isn’t using tax payer money to go on a wild goose chase, It’s just a bunch of nerds having a nerd battle.

        1. “I’m a member of Mensa”. Wow, that and a quarter gets you a phone call. You join a group of self-proclaimed geniuses that do nothing more than try to out-smart each other, and you have the audacity to call anyone else a douchebag?

  4. I find it hard to believe that so many here are against simple clear language telling us just exactly what info they are tracking, keeping, using. How is that a downer? I would like to know who is using my location or my emails or my web surfing. why not?

    1. People are reacting adversely here because, I suspect, of political affiliations; and that someone had the audacity to make a suggestion to Apple. People react irrationally when they nurse a bias hangover which are bought for by the fair price of reason.

      1. If so, then the inverse is also true, and those blinded by the ‘contrary’ political affiliation see no problems whatsoever with political witch hunts as long as the PR is generated for their team. Be careful throwing stones krquet, and you may what to be a bit more diligent in challenging the biased set of beliefs you call ‘reason’.

        I’m unaffiliated, but I’m smart enough to know that it takes money for Congress to do anything, and it’s an increasing amount of my money that pays for this nonsense. I think it’s embarrassing that Apple was summoned to DC to reiteratethe exact contents of their publically available privacy policy. Any way you slice it, Al is either stupid for not doing even a minimal amount of research, or he’s dishonest in that his interest is in cultivating some taxpayer funded PR for himself.

        1. “If so, then the inverse is also true…”

          Absolutely, but that’s hardly a revelation in this context, as I didn’t make a claim here that any certain political view is superior or right over its opposing view(s). As such, my contention remains valid and impartial in a general setting (as intended), which applies against all political biases that forgo rationality.

          “Be careful throwing stones krquet, and you may what [sic] to be a bit more diligent in challenging the biased set of beliefs you call ‘reason’.”

          I take that your ‘what’ was a simple typo for ‘want’; however, I still wasn’t sure what you had implied there. I had to read it a few times, and It seems to me, that you may have misunderstood my point, of which I confess of not expressing well in the first place: I didn’t say nor imply that the biased set of beliefs were reasons themselves. I only tried to express that biased views were purchased at the expense of reason—a poor bargain. I may have been guilty of attempting a bit of misplaced sarcasm by way of injecting ‘fair price’ (alluding poor bargain) in my argument, which apparently didn’t translate well.

          A disclaimer or two: I also don’t have any political affiliations, on top of which, if it helps, I’m not an American.

          I’ve noted that you are also claiming to be unaffiliated (independent perhaps?), and I have no reason to doubt that. However, judging from your other posts/comments here and tone, an image can be conjured something akin to the lady doth protest too much against a certain view, and with zeal, even when the view/affiliation was imagined (falsely) rather than implied.

          1. Why is it that the posters who identify themselves as “not American” are the only ones making cogent, logical, and reasoned statements, while the American wing-nuts post buffoonery?

  5. Al Franken wasn’t funny on SNL, but he’s pretty damned funny as a lawmaker!

    Thanks, MN, for relegating yourselves to irrelevancy by putting this clown in the limelight as representative of your ideals!

    Minnesota- Biggest joke in America since electing wacky Al!

  6. Al Franken should stop wasting his time trying to protect idiots from themselves. Message to everyone who is freaking out about mobile data collection: If you don’t want anyone to know where you are, don’t tell anyone! You cannot say “ok” to location-based requests in order to enjoy the benefits of your nifty iPhone apps, then whine about the fact that your location has been recorded. Well, actually you can do that, but you’d just be proving that you’re a moron.

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