Congress Questions Apple About Path

Two Congressmen sent a letter Wednesday asking Apple why it seems to fall short when protecting iOS user information and contacts.

The letter, prompted by news that iOS application Path had been storing user information from address books without user knowledge or consent, asks Apple a few tough questions:

  1. Please describe all iOS App Guidelines that concern criteria related to the privacy and security of data that will be accessed or transmitted by an app.
  2. Please describe how you determine whether an app meets those criteria.
  3. What data do you consider to be “data about a user” that is subject to the requirement that the app obtain the user’s consent before it is transmitted?
  4. To the extent not addressed in the response to question 2, please describe how you determine whether an app will transmit “data about a user” and whether the consent requirement has been met.
  5. How many iOS apps in the U.S. iTunes Store transmit “data about a user”?
  6. Do you consider the contents of the address book to be “data about a user”?
  7. Do you consider the contents of the address book to be data of the contact?  If not, please explain why not.  Please explain how you protect the privacy and security interests of that contact in his or her information.
  8. How many iOS apps in the U.S. iTunes Store transmit information from the address book?  How many of those ask for the user’s consent before transmitting their contacts’ information?
  9. You have built into your devices the ability to turn off in one place the transmission of location information entirely or on an app-by-app basis.  Please explain why you have not done the same for address book information. 

The letter, written by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California and Commerce Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee Chairman GK Butterfield, D-North Carolina, asks for Apple chief executive Tim Cook to respond to the questions by Feb. 29.

While Apple isn't forced to answer the questions, it's obvious that if Apple doesn't there will be more scrutiny by Congress and likely a probe. Google's experience tells us that. Plus if Apple answers, much like Facebook did last year, it's bound to blow over despite threats of government probes.

But should it blow over? We would hope not, because Apple does have some 'splaining to do. Is there some unwritten rule that it's OK to download address books? While Apple has always touted its walled garden approach to apps and devices, who knew that poachers and spies were already hanging out in that same garden.

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