U.S. Senator Calls for Apple, Google Mobile Privacy Probe

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J. Scott Applewhite / AP

The drumbeat over digital privacy is getting louder. Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, stepped into the fray over the weekend, calling for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Apple and Google over reports that the companies’ mobile phone operating systems misuse personal data, including photos and contact lists.

In a letter to the FTC, Schumer asked the agency to consider launching “a comprehensive investigation to explicitly determine whether copying or distributing personal information from smart phones, without a user’s consent, constitutes an unfair or deceptive trade practice.” Schumer’s call for a federal probe adds an influential voice to the growing chorus of criticism that has erupted over recent disclosures about mobile phone practices.

The latest flareup began last month with news that Path, a popular social networking application, was uploading entire iPhone address books to its servers, without user permission. This was followed by a report that Google’s Android mobile operating system allowed application developers access to user photos without explicit permission.

(More: Are Your iPhone Apps Taking Your Address Book Without Permission?)

Apple and Google tried to tamp down the furor by inking a privacy agreement with the California’s attorney general. But that wasn’t enough for the senator from New York, apparently.

“It sends shivers up the spine to think that one’s personal photos, address book, and who-knows-what-else can be obtained and even posted online – without consent,” Schumer said in a statement. “If the technology exists to open the door to this kind of privacy invasion, then surely technology exists to close it, and that’s exactly what must happen.”

“The rapid innovation in technology, which is wonderful, must not also become an open invitation to violate people’s privacy willy-nilly,” he added. “When a consumer makes a private phone call or sends a letter the old fashioned way, they have a very reasonable expectation that the communication is private. The same standard must apply to our new technologies, too.”

Schumer isn’t the only lawmaker who wants answers about mobile privacy. Rep. Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat, and Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat, wrote to Apple CEO Tim Cook last month asking for an explanation.