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Google, Apple Invited to Testify at Senate Privacy Hearings

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy invited Google Inc. and Apple Inc. to testify on May 10 at a hearing on privacy and mobile telephones.

Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, sent invitations to Google Chief Executive Officer Larry Page and Apple CEO Steve Jobs, urging the companies to testify about how they are addressing privacy concerns raised by Google’s Android mobile phone software and Apple’s iPhone.

“Like many Americans, I read with deep concern recent press reports indicating that” the devices “collect, store and track user location data without the user’s consent,” Leahy said in letters to the two men. “As Congress considers updates to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and other federal privacy laws, it is essential that the Senate Judiciary Committee have full and accurate information about the privacy risks posed by this new technology.”

Apple and Google are facing scrutiny from consumers and lawmakers over the collection of data on smart phones. Earlier today, Apple said it isn’t tracking users’ locations and plans to reduce the amount of data stored by iPhones.

Ready to Explain

Google said it is willing to explain to lawmakers how it protects people’s privacy on mobile devices.

“We provide users with notice and control over the collection, sharing and use of location” on Androids, Google spokesman Chris Gaither said in an e-mail. “Any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user.”

Leahy, a sponsor of the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, is leading congressional efforts to update the law and held a hearing on it April 6.

“There is tremendous collection of locational data and the ability to pinpoint users in real time,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based advocacy group, in an interview today on Bloomberg Television. “It can be a great thing if you want a restaurant recommendation, or it can be an important thing if you are in an emergency situation and need to call 911. But then there are questions about what happens when it’s just being stored on the device. Does that create a privacy risk for the user?”

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