Senator urges photos, contacts FTC inquiry into Apple, Google

Summary:A U.S. Senator is asking the FTC to investigate Apple and Google after a spate of smartphone applications could access user's contact list data and private photos.

In the wake of the ongoing controversy of Apple applications able to upload contact list data to third-party developers, and Android phones reportedly able to access users' private photos, one U.S. Senator is weighing in and seeking answers.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate claims made by the New York Times last month, where it reported a loophole in which an iOS or Android application could access private data in smartphones through poor application permissions.

"These uses go well beyond what a reasonable user understands himself to be consenting to when he allows an app to access data on the phone for purposes of the app's functionality," Schumer wrote in the letter to the FTC, reports Reuters.

"Smartphone makers should be required to put in place safety measures to ensure third party applications are not able to violate a user's personal privacy by stealing photographs or data that the user did not consciously decide to make public."

While application developers like Path and Twitter have come under fire for covertly accessing the contact list data or private photo access, the application store owners are in the crosshairs of the consumers for allowing such access to smartphones.

Schumer criticises Apple and Google, the driving force of the application store community, for not enforcing the rules of its platform's stores. While these applications, and others, violate the terms and conditions of the application stores, "it is not clear whether or how those terms of service are being enforced and monitored", he added.

"Smartphone makers should be required to put in place safety measures to ensure third party applications are not able to violate a user's personal privacy by stealing photographs or data that the user did not consciously decide to make public".

Contact list data held in Apple's iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch were uploaded without the users explicit consent. Later, Android smartphones could be accessed and photos were exposed to the applications. Text message data was also thought to be accessible in a separate case, according to a piece by the Sunday Times, but Facebook refuted the claims entirely.

Apple acknowledged the flaw in its iOS platform, and said a fix would be coming soon. It said, "any app wishing to access contact data will require explicit user approval in a future software release," emulating a similar feature in which location data is accessed.

It is not the first time Apple has been at the front of a storm regarding user privacy in what was dubbed "Locationgate". Last May, it was found that Apple collected user location data, stored it in an unencrypted file on the iOS 4-based smartphone, and the data was uploaded back to the company.

In its testifying to the U.S. Congress, Apple said it would address the issues raises in what became iOS 5, but denied it did any wrongdoing by claiming it was part of a crowdsourced location database.

Apple and Google did not respond to questions regarding the Senator's letter to the FTC.

Image source: Josh Lowensohn/CNET.

Related:

Topics: Apple, Google

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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