Apple and Facebook in US App Privacy Probe

US Congressmen ask for info on what data social app makers are taking

Two members of US Congress have sent letters out to iOS app makers including Apple and Facebook, asking them to explain what user data their software accesses.

The letters have been sent out in response to public anger over certain apps that were caught storing user contacts and other information without informing customers.

In particular, Congressmen Henry Waxman and George Butterfield pointed to the case of Path, whose app was collecting iPhone owners’ address books without asking for consent. Another app maker, Hipster, apologised for doing the same. Concerns were also raised in February after it was discovered certain location-based apps on the App Store could allow developers to access photos stored on iPhones, iPads or iPods.

What’s Cooking?

A total of 34 letters have been sent out to various app sellers, including one to Apple CEO Tim Cook, who has been asked questions about what the Find My Friends app does.

“We  are writing to you because we want to better understand the information collection and use policies and practices of  apps for Apple’s mobile devices with a social element,” the letter to Cook read. It asked Apple’s chief if the company has a privacy policy for the app, if it stores information from a user’s address book and if it takes any other information, like calendar details or photos.

The Congressmen have asked for responses by 12 April. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo and LinkedIn’s top man Jeff Weiner are amongst the 34 companies contacted. The creators of Path, Pinterest, Hipster, SoundCloud and FourSquare have also been sent letters.

“The members want the information to begin building a fact-based understanding of the privacy and security practices in the app marketplace,” the official statement from the Congressmen read.

There is a global push for better privacy practices at the minute. Google is under the spotlight after rolling its many privacy policies for its various products into one document. Some fear Google will now be sharing more data across its services and EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding said the changes were illegal under European law.

CNIL, the French data protection watchdog, is leading the charge from the European end, sending 69 questions to Google over the alterations.

Yesterday, Vint Cerf, founding father of the internet and web evangelist at Google, told TechWeekEurope he was “puzzled” by the outrage. He admitted, however, the company could have presented the new policy better.