News: Senate Hearing for Apple & Google

Posted on May 10, 2011

Earlier today, Apple and Google went before the US Senate judiciary subcommittee on Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law and the result was interesting from both companies.

As noted by TUAW, there’s quite a bit to take from the session. Apple seemed to be very transparent:

When Senator Franken questioned Tribble about a seeming conflict in written statements versus the press statements around how tracking info is used, Tribble noted again that Apple does store this crowdsourced data on your iPhone/iPad and in a computer’s database, but that the data is not the location of your phone, but the location of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers used to aid apps in locating your iOS device. It is not sent to Apple and Apple is not in the business of tracking customers.

He made repeated mention of how all apps which use this location information must pop up a modal dialog warning the user. Plus, a purple icon appears next to the battery indicator showing you when location information is being accessed. Further, if you drill into Settings > Location Services, the same purple icon will appear next to applications which have accessed your location data within the past 24 hours.

According to Tribble, Apple does random audits of apps to see if they are violating policies. Plus, engineers monitor network traffic from apps to see if there are irregularities. Further, the company does look at user groups, the media and blogs for reports of behaviors from apps that may violate their policies. In all cases, Tribble said, Apple contacts the developers during an investigation and informs them of a policy issue. They are given an opportunity to fix the issue or be pulled from the store. To his knowledge, the incentive of being on the App Store was enough to always have developers comply with Apple policies.

Google, on the other hand, seemed to be a little more altruistic:

For its part, Google’s representative played offense, pointing out how location data can be used to benefit mankind. As one example, he noted the company’s work with the Center for Exploited and Missing Children, and how Google aims to push Amber Alerts to people in a specific region for those alerts. He also, again and again, expressed how Google supports “openness” instead of curation.

Unfortunately, Google took a beating in the hearings, basically admitting that the Google app market is a Wild West of applications. With the Android Marketplace’s openness, developers can and do write apps which encourage or enable illegal activity. Also, Google’s policies on who does what with your data (be it location or email or whatever) are there, but each app developer can pretty much do as they please with only the vaguest notion that Google might (in case of malware, for example) come down on you and remove your app from the store.

This post has been filed in News