Franken Presses Apple, Google on Mobile Application Privacy

Apple Inc. and Google Inc. should provide customers with “clear and understandable privacy policies” for mobile applications, a U.S. lawmaker said.

Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, wrote in a letter to the two companies today that posting a user-friendly privacy policy would be a “simple first step” that would provide consumers a minimum of information about what data an app collects and shares with third parties.

Franken held a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing May 10 on privacy issues around location data collected from smartphones and other mobile devices. Executives with Apple and Google defended their handling of user location data at the hearing and said they do not track individual smartphone customers.

In his letter to Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs and Google Chief Executive Officer Larry Page, Franken said that neither company requires applications in their stores to have a privacy policy, and said as a result a “significant portion and potentially a majority” of the apps lack privacy policies.

Franken said that “at a minimum” Apple and Google should require “location-aware” apps to have privacy policies spelling out what location information is collected, how it is used, and how it is shared with third parties.

Kristin Huguet, a spokeswoman for Apple, declined to comment beyond the company’s earlier statements to lawmakers. Brian Richardson, a spokesman for Google, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Focus on Applications

U.S. lawmakers are focusing on mobile privacy after researchers found that the operating system of Apple’s iPhones and iPads logs users’ locations. Companies including Apple and Google, whose Android software powers smartphones from leading handset makers, use location data from mobile devices to deliver targeted advertising and help consumers find nearby businesses.

Lawmakers have recently highlighted the lack of regulation for mobile applications, often made by outside software developers, that run on smartphones and other wireless devices. Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, said mobile apps “have to be regulated” at a May 19 hearing.

Revenue from applications in the U.S. and Canada is expected to grow to $11.8 billion in 2015 from $3.8 billion in 2011, according to the Yankee Group, a Boston-based technology research firm.

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