Apple, Google Questioned by U.S. Lawmakers on Location-Tracking Technology

Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Google Inc. (GOOG) were among six companies that drew inquiries from U.S. lawmakers seeking to determine whether their products breach privacy rules by tracking, storing and sharing user locations.

Five Republican lawmakers sent letters yesterday to the companies with questions ranging from how they store location data on mobile device systems to who can access it and whether it’s transmitted through third parties, the House Energy and Commerce Committee said on its website. U.S. Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, invited Apple and Google executives to a May 10 hearing on mobile device privacy.

The inquiries follow a report this month by a former Apple software engineer and a university researcher that said Apple software raises security and privacy concerns by collecting coordinates along with the dates and times the points are visited. The report prompted investigations by regulators in France, Germany, Italy and South Korea.

Steve Dowling, a spokesman for Apple, didn’t return a call seeking comment. Chris Gaither, a spokesman for Google, declined to comment on the House committee actions.

“We provide users with notice and control over the collection, sharing and use of location in order to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices," Google said yesterday. "Any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user.”

Apple Software

Alasdair Allan, a senior research fellow in astronomy at the U.K.’s University of Exeter, and former Apple software engineer Pete Warden in an April 20 report said the information tracked by Apple software can total tens of thousands of data points and isn’t encrypted. There is no evidence it is being shared, according to their report.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked Apple and Google executives to meet her to discuss reports that their products collect, store and can relay information about users’ locations, according to the her office yesterday.

Apple, based in Cupertino, California, is the maker of iPhone mobile telephones and iPad tablet computers, each of which was cited in the attorney general’s statement, as was the Android software developed by Google for use in mobile phones.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ketaki Gokhale in Mumbai at kgokhale@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Young-Sam Cho at ycho2@bloomberg.net

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