Representatives from Apple and Google will speak before the Senate Judiciary Privacy subcommittee Tuesday morning to explain how their companies collect and share customers’ personal information.
Shortly after a report circulated revealing an unprotected file on Apple’s iPhone that stores location data, subcommittee chairman Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) sent a letter to Apple chief executive Steve Jobs asking for more information on the company’s privacy practices. Within days, he invited Apple and Google — which makes the Android mobile platform — to testify at the privacy panel’s first hearing.
In an interview, Franken said that the hearing's basic purpose is to let lawmakers and consumers know what choices these companies provide to consumers who want control over their personal information.
Below is an edited version of our conversation:
What do you hope learn from this hearing?
I believe people have a right to know what’s going on with their information and how it’s collected, how it’s stored and who gets it. The purpose of this hearing is to bring members of the committee and the Senate up to speed on those policies.
It's also a public service. People just don't know what these policies are. We'll see if there needs to be changes, either through legislation or in another way.
I like Apple, and I like Google. It’s hard to think of two companies who have done more in terms of innovation in this country. What we need is a business model here that allows for innovation. This hearing is just to be sure that people have control over their information. This is not to overreact. People just need to be aware of what's going on.
Were you satisfied with the answers Apple provided in their Q&A to consumers and their letter to you?
I was satisfied with some of their answers. The location discussion seemed a little unsatisfactory. In my letter, I asked why they did not disclose these policies to device owners. The answer felt a little too legalistic, just too much gobbledygook.
What else would you like to hear from Apple and Google?
I’d like to hear about how they can protect the privacy of the owners of these devices, in terms of their personal information. I’d also like to know what apps are doing and whether that information is shared with third parties.
Not that I’ve seen. The current policies don't do a lot of good. Apple’s software licensing agreement is about the same length as the Constitution. Google's screen for privacy settings does give you more options for what you share than Apple’s does. But it’s not a complete list and people aren’t aware of whether or not that information will go to a third party.
Do you think kids’ privacy is a particular concern?
Kids’ privacy is an issue to look at, but it’s all part and parcel of the whole thing.
How does this discussion fit in with current legislation on the Hill, like the Kerry-McCain privacy bill?
If legislation does come out of this, it will be smaller and more narrow than the Kerry bill. It would be focused on mobile devices. We're looking at a narrower thing.
We’re looking at the basic value of privacy and at information: who has the information, how it's being disseminated, who is disseminating it and to whom. What we’re concerned with is making sure that people have control.