At a recent hearing before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, a staffer from the Federal Trade Commission testified that the agency has a “number” of active investigations into privacy issues associated with mobile devices, including children’s privacy.
The hearing was scheduled after news broke that iPhones and iPads were gathering and storing location data about users – even if they turned off their location services.
Jessica Rich, Deputy Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the agency has been examining wireless and mobile privacy issues since 2000. “New technology can bring tremendous benefits to consumers, but it also can present new concerns and provide a platform for old frauds to resurface. Mobile technology is no different,” Rich said.
She highlighted four recent mobile-related enforcement actions brought by the agency, including actions against Google and Twitter for failing to protect the privacy and security of consumer information.
In addition, the FTC filed complaints against Reverb Communications, a public relations firm accused of having its employees pose as consumers and post positive reviews about clients’ gaming applications on iTunes, and against Philip Flora, a spammer who used prepaid cell phones to send over 5 million unsolicited text messages.
Currently the FTC has “a number of active investigations into privacy issues associated with mobile devices, including children’s privacy,” Rich told lawmakers, including Committee Chairman Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).
Rich also referenced the agency’s December privacy report, applying those recommendations to mobile privacy. For example, the “privacy by design” approach recommended in the report could lead a traffic and weather app to limit its collection of data only to consumers’ location information rather than simultaneously collecting consumers’ call logs or contact lists. Rich suggested that app developers should “carefully consider” how long their service should retain consumers’ location information.
Rich said the agency is currently reviewing 452 comments received in response to its privacy report, many of which address mobile privacy issues, and will release a final staff report later in 2011.
Testimony from the Justice Department also revealed that the Criminal Division is in the process of creating proposals for anti-computer-crime laws relating to mobile privacy.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein in the Criminal Division said that a “package of anti-computer-crime” issues relating to mobile privacy is “imminent as measured by days instead of weeks.” Such proposals could provide the basis for future laws.
Other speakers included representatives from Apple and Google, who noted that location-based services have proliferated due to increased consumer demand.
To read the text of the FTC’s testimony, click here.
To read or view Sen. Franken’s opening statement, click here.
Why it matters: “What today is about is trying to find a balance between . . . wonderful benefits and the public’s right to privacy,” Franken said in his opening statement at the hearing. “I believe that consumers have a fundamental right to know what data is being collected about them. I also believe that they have a right to decide whether they want to share that information, and with whom they want to share it and when. And I think we have those rights for all of our personal information.”