Data security and user privacy are hot topics following the high profile Cambridge Analytica scandal that resulted in Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress. However, Facebook is not the only major company facing scrutiny by our elected officials. Apple and Google have both received letters from members of the US House of Representatives with questions about each company's mobile phone privacy and location data policies.
The letters follow a couple of recent and concerning privacy incidents that came to light. In May, it was reported that Apple had begun cracking down on apps that share location data with third-party companies, and had actually removed multiple offending apps. Then last week, there was a report in The Wall Street Journal that Google sometimes grants third-party app developers permission to read the contents of Gmail messages, and that marketing firms have even created apps to mine certain Gmail data.
Now Congress is looking into things. One of the letters came from the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Greg Walden, along with three other senior House Republicans on the panel. The letters state their intention to "probe the companies' representation of third-party access to consumer data, and the collection and use of audio recording data as well as location information via iPhone and Android devices."
The letters cite reports of smartphones having the ability to collect non-triggered audio data, as is necessary for digital assistant software like Google Now and Siri to hear each one's wake phrase. They also ask whether Google and Apple collect audio recordings of users from mobile devices without their consent.
"Protecting our users’ privacy and securing their information is of the utmost importance to Google," Google's parent company Alphabet told Reuters.
Apple has not responded to requests for comment, though we wouldn't expect it to offer up anything significantly different from Google's canned response. As for the letters, they request that Google and Apple respond to questions by July 23, as well as brief committee members on the issues outlined in them.