Lawmakers to Apple: What's up with these privacy policy changes?

Summary:Lawmakers in Washington have some questions for Apple over privacy policy changes that allow the company to collect and use geo-location data.

Washington lawmakers have put Apple CEO Steve Jobs on notice. Word of the changes to Apple's privacy policy has reached Capitol Hill and a couple of congressmen have some questions that they'd like answered - no later than July 12, thank you very much.

Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), co-chairs of the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, sent a letter to Jobs today, asking for some clarification on the new privacy policies that allows Apple to collect and use geographic location information about Apple's iPhone and iPad devices, according to an entry on the Washington Post's Post Tech blog.

It appears that the policy has been in place since at least 2008 for some Apple devices but only on the End User License Agreement for those devices. That language was moved the company's general privacy policy, according to the Los Angeles Times, which first revealed the changes.

The controversy isn't necessarily that the company is collecting and using the data. After all, some of the apps and services that make the smartphone experience so rewarding are the location-based services. If I'm passing through an unfamiliar city and want my smartphone to find the closet ATM or pizza joint, it will need to know where I am.

What's controversial here is the opt-in/opt-out issue - the same controversy that's put other companies, such as Facebook, on the hot seat. By default, users have to opt-in. The system won't let you download media or apps from iTunes until you agree to the new terms. Later, if you'd like, you can go in and make some adjustments to the settings - but that seems to cover the information sent to apps, not Apple.

I really don't get why this is so hard for companies like Facebook and Apple to understand. Consumers seem to be OK with the tools and services that are being provided - but they'd like some control over it. Is that really too much to ask? Maybe, as a consumer, I'm willing to compromise my user experience for the sake of some privacy paranoia. I should be given that choice.

When you mess with the privacy of people and do so by forcing them into agreeing to terms that - let's be honest about it - they're not going to read, you're inevitably going to get a knock on the door from the suits in Washington.

These days, it seems to go with the territory.

Topics: Networking, Apple, Hardware, Mobility, Smartphones

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