Congress wants Google, Apple to testify about data privacy

Lawmakers press Apple and Google on how they track and listen to smartphone users

Four senior U.S. House Republicans sent letters on Monday to the chief executives of Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Google parent Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) asking questions about location data and mobile phone privacy practices and the handling of customer data. "Recent reports have indicated that consumer data gathered through cell phones, including location information and recordings of users, may be used in ways that consumers do not expect".

In their letter to Google co-Founder Larry Page, the committee expressed concern over Gmail. The scanning is usually done by computers.

Their letter included a list of questions about Google's data policies for app developers and third parties, as well as protections it had in place against abuse from its own employees.

The senators wrote that after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the political consulting firm improperly obtained 87 million Facebook users' data, the Commerce panel is growing concerned with internet companies' practices. "Do Google's Android devices collect audio recordings of users without consent?"

Lawmakers also asked about the companies' roles in policing how app makers collect and share information taken from smartphones.

Owners of iPhones can enable or disable Siri as they choose, Apple previously has said, but personal assistants often have to be listening constantly for their trigger words to function properly. However, the lawmakers are anxious that the smartphones may be also vacuuming up "non-triggered" data.

Google still permitted third parties to access the contents of users' emails, including message text, email signatures, and receipt data, to personalize content.

The letters, which were first reported by the Wall Street Journal, cite numerous media reports over the past couple of years outlining Google's data collection practices. For instance, does an Android device still record and store nearby cellular tower information when the SIM card has been removed?

Previously, Apple has said that it uses tools like Global Positioning System and bluetooth to determine a device owner's location if a user has enabled that functionality.

While Apple is yet to comment, in response to these letters, Google said it's looking forward to "answering the committee's questions".

Numerous questions for the executives were about mobile products, such as Apple's iPhone and the Android operating system made by Alphabet subsidiary Google.

Lawmakers asked for answers by July 23. The letters were signed by Greg Walden of Oregon, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Gregg Harper of MS, and Bob Latta of Ohio.

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