Online privacy is the U.S. Government’s issue du jour. In recent months, several legislators have submitted bi-partisan proposals — each endeavoring to establish a federal online privacy law. But while politicians are exhibiting a united front, technology corporations are lobbying hard to squash universal privacy initiatives, citing unnecessary costs and bureaucratic red-tape.
The latest elected official to tackle online privacy is West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller. On May 9th, to the praise of privacy and consumer advocate groups, Rockefeller released his Do Not Track Act of 2011. Earnest in his pursuit, the senator also sent a stern letter to Google and Apple questioning the respective companies’ mobile application security and privacy procedures. Last week, at a Senate hearing, the mega-tech corporations presented their answers.
Apple’s Response to Senate’s Mobile Privacy Concerns: We Remove Apps Quickly & Don’t Collect Information From Kids
Representing Apple was vice president Catherine Novelli. Resolute in her defense of approved iPhone and iPad applications, Novelli indicated that any information Apple collects through mobile applications is anonymous and in no way tied to an individual. In addition, she explained that if a breach is discovered, developers have 24 hours to correct the mistake; if a solution is not found, the buggy application is removed from Apple’s online and offline stores. In response to specific questions about the security of children’s information, Novelli testified that Apple does not knowingly collect data on those 13 and younger.
Google’s Response to Senate’s Mobile Privacy Concerns: Expunged Data & Effective Parental Controls
Director of public policy, Alan Davidson, represented Google on the panel. In response to inquiries, Davidson testified that his company obtains user consent from phone and tablet users before any Android data tracking applications are activated. Similar to Novelli, the Google executive also insisted that identity tags are expunged from collected data and therefore “not tied or traceable to a specific user.” Davidson went on to address Rockefeller’s concern about children’s privacy by explaining that developers are required to give their applications maturity ratings, which can then be monitored using built-in parental controls.
As our communication devices become more portable and powerful, the potential for application development is limitless. As Sen. Rockefeller opined in the May 19th hearing, “The devices are not really phones-they’re miniature computers.” We’d be remiss, out of fear, to demur from using many of these technology breakthroughs; but, we must exercise caution when deciding which platforms and programs to use. And it’s in each of our interests to educate ourselves on the most effective personal security measures available.