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U.S. Lawmaker Uneasy About Data Gathered From AT&T Customers

A lawmaker expressed “uneasiness” about how companies that develop applications for smartphones may use data collected from U.S. mobile phone customers.

Wireless providers led by AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless don’t control how some independent companies gather information about mobile phone users’ location, according to Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican.

“Third-party developers can access the location of customers anytime they want,” Barton said in a news release. ‘This is a huge problem. They shouldn’t have free rein over your location data and personally identifiable information.’’

Barton and Representative Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, co-chairmen of the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, released letters from wireless carriers including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint Nextel Corp., and T-Mobile USA Inc. responding to questions about how they collect, store and use customer data.

AT&T doesn’t sell customers’ personal information, Robert Quinn, an AT&T senior vice president, said in the company’s April 19 letter to Markey and Barton.

Developers who use AT&T’s online store to sell applications must disclose what location information is gathered and whether it is to be shared with third parties, Quinn said. “AT&T has no control” over practices of providers who aren’t affiliated with it, Quinn said.

Third-party developers must “bear responsibility for informing customers about their privacy and data protection policies,” Peter Davidson, Verizon’s senior vice president of federal government relations, said in an e-mail.

Apple, Google

Apple Inc. and Google Inc. also were among six companies that lawmakers asked to provide information on tracking, storing and sharing user locations to determine whether their products breach privacy rules. Five lawmakers in letters April 25 asked the companies if they store location data, who can access it and whether it’s transmitted through third parties.

Apple said yesterday it isn’t tracking customers’ locations while acknowledging it gathers information about wireless gear near a user’s handset. The iPhone saves information on Wi-Fi hot spots and cellular towers near the device’s location and accesses the data when users need it, Apple said.

Regulators in Germany, France and Italy said last week they are checking whether Apple’s iPhone and iPad products violate privacy rules by tracking, storing and sharing data about the locations of users. Irish officials also are examining complaints on the issue.

U.S. Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, invited Apple and Google executives to a May 10 Judiciary subcommittee hearing on mobile-device privacy.

Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat who is chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said today he also plans to hold a hearing on the topic in May.

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