Sen. Schumer calls on FTC to delve into privacy issues related to mobile apps and Apple, Google

March 6, 2012

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called on the FTC to investigate Apple and Google after reports that smartphone and tablet apps could pick up more data from consumer’s phones than they realize, Hayley Tsukayama reported:

Late last month, the Path journaling app landed in hot water when it was revealed that the app was picking up the contact information on users’ phones. Other reports have indicated that some apps have access to users’ photos. Reuters reported that Schumer wrote to the agency, saying that Apple and Google should be required to protect users’ private content.

As Joshua Topolsky wrote, the privacy controversy should be a wake up call for consumers who own an iPhone or iPad:

A programmer discovered a major issue. Namely, that when you logged into the app on an Apple iOS device — an iPhone or iPad — it automatically uploaded your entire address book to its servers. Without asking.

Ostensibly this was done so you could locate your friends who were also using the service. But if you’re never prompted (which is what most apps do), it looks like a big intrusion.

The discovery was made when the developer used a tool called a “man-in-the-middle,” which could watch what data was sent to and from an application in real time. What he noticed was that the app was sending all of your address book data, in plain text, to Path’s servers. It’s unclear what they were doing with it after that.

As far as invasions of privacy go, that’s a very big one.

The company behind the journaling app Path said last month that it would erase data it obtained from users’ addresss books in response to user backlash, according to Hayley Tsukayama:8

Dave Morin, the company’s co-founder and CEO wrote that he had heard users’ concerns loud and clear.

“Through the feedback we’ve received from all of you, we now understand that the way we had designed our ‘Add Friends’ feature was wrong,” Morin wrote. “We are deeply sorry if you were uncomfortable with how our application used your phone contacts.”

He also said that the company has also updated its iOS app to provide users the option to turn on the address book integration, and no longer uploads the data automatically. The company seems to have already been trying to work to fix the issue before the uploading was caught by developer Arun Thampi. Ahead of Thampi’s widely-circulated blog post on the subject, Path made a similar change to its Android app.

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