Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) may have gotten his start on Saturday Night Live, but he wasn't joking around this week when he wrote a letter, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary privacy committee, to the chairmen of Apple and Google, calling them to task for collecting users' location data and "requesting" change.
This Isn't the First Time I've Talked to You About This
Part of Franken's testiness was because he first raised the request at a Senate Judiciary Privacy subpanel hearing on mobile privacy earlier this month, which brought publicity and public awareness to the fact that Apple and Google mobile devices collected a list of geographic locations the device owner had visited -- a list that could be retrieved by law enforcement or hacked into. He had also previously written a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
While an Apple representative said during the hearing that the company already requires developers to sign a contract detailing the sort of information they collect, and could face expulsion from the app store if they run afoul of the rules, and Google promised it would explore the matter, according to Politico, Franken was dissatisfied with the pace of the response.
What the Letter Says
In a copy of the letter addressed to Jobs and Google CEO Larry Page, Franken pointedly asked:
At the hearing, I asked Dr. Tribble and Mr. Davidson whether Apple and Google would commit to requiring that all applications in the Apple App Store and the Android App Market have clear and understandable privacy policies. I am writing today to renew this request, and ask if each of your companies would be willing to adopt this simple first step towards further protecting your users' privacy."
After describing a number of surveys and background information about user concerns for privacy and how much of an issue it was, Franken went on to say:
Franken went on to point out that he was asking this only for location-specific apps, which were a fraction of the apps available at each of the vendors' stores. There was no stick, no threat of, perhaps, Congressional action to require such a policy, though perhaps simply having it on Franken's Senate letterhead conveyed that.
"Thank you for considering this request," Franken concluded.
We shall see. Both Google and Apple have declined to comment thus far.