Congressmen Question Location Provision in Apple Privacy Policy

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-06-25

Congressmen want to know more about the data Apple collects through its location-based services for the iPhone, iPad and computers.

Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) June 24 sent a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs about provisions in the company's privacy policy that allow it to collect data about the location of devices consumers purchase.

Apple, which may also share location data with application providers when consumers opt in to providers' location services, will not let users download any applications from the iTunes store without agreeing to the new terms and conditions.    

Apple's revised privacy policy states:

"To provide location-based services on Apple products, Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services."

This has Reps. Markey and Barton, who co-chair the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, concerned.

"Given the limited ability of Apple users to opt out of the revised policy and still be able to take advantage of the features of their Apple products, we are concerned about the impact the collection of such data could have on the privacy of Apple's customers," the Congressmen wrote in the letter.

The lawmakers want to better understand Apple's data collection practices and their potential impact on consumers, as well as public policy implications of the data usage.

Markey and Barton asked the following questions, which they demand answers for by July 12.

  • Which specific Apple products are being used by Apple to collect geographic location data?
  • When did Apple begin collecting this location data, and how often is data collected from a given consumer?

  • Does Apple collect this location data from all consumers using Apple products? If the answer is no, please explain which consumers Apple is collecting information from and the reasons that these consumers were chosen for monitoring.
  • How many consumers are subject to this collection of location data?

  • What internal procedures are in place to ensure that any location data is stored "anonymously in a form that does not personally identify" individual consumers?
  • Please explain in detail why Apple decided to begin collecting location data at this time, and how it intends to use the data.

  • Is Apple sharing consumer location information collected through iPhones and iPads with AT&T or other telecommunications carriers?
  • Who are the unspecified "partners and licensees" with which Apple shares this location data, and what are the terms and conditions of such information sharing? How does this comply with the requirements of Section 222 of the Communications Act, which mandates that no consumer location information be shared without the explicit prior consent of the consumer?
  • Does Apple believe that legal boilerplate in a general information policy, which the consumer must agree to in order to download applications or updates, is fully consistent with the intent of Section 222, and sufficient to inform the consumer that the consumer's location may be disclosed to other parties? Has Apple or its legal counsel conducted an analysis of this issue?

Location-based services have become table stakes for application providers, particularly those offering Web services with a social focus.

Whether it's the friend-finding service such as Google Latitude, or the interactive check-ins required by Foursquare and Gowalla, location is often targeted for smartphones users who want to connect with friends on the go.

Application providers, which also include Twitter and Facebook, hope to leverage their location services for online advertising.


Rocket Fuel