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Sen. Franken to Apple CEO: Apple's Operating System Raises Serious Privacy Concerns

Senator Especially Concerned Operating System Could Jeopardize Privacy of Children, Teens Who Use iPhones and iPads

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) pressed Apple CEO Steve Jobs to address privacy concerns about location tracking in the company's iPhones and iPads.

Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) pressed Apple CEO Steve Jobs to address privacy concerns about the company's latest operating system, which security researchers have said secretly stores highly detailed information about users' locations in an unencrypted file on their iPhones, iPads and any computer that these devices have been synced to.  Sen. Franken raised particular concerns over protecting the privacy of children and teenagers, who constitute nearly 15 percent of iPhone and iPad users.

"The existence of this information-stored in an unencrypted format-raises serious privacy concerns," Sen. Franken wrote in the letter. "The researchers who uncovered this file speculated that it generated location based on cell phone triangulation technology.  If that is indeed the case, the location available in this file is likely accurate to 50 meters or less. Anyone who gains access to this single file could likely determine the location of a user's home, the businesses he frequents, the doctors he visits, the schools his children attend, and the trips he has taken-over the past months or even a year."

Sen. Franken, who chairs the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, also asked Apple to answer several questions, among them:

  • Why were Apple consumers not informed of the collection and retention of their location data in this manner?
  • How frequently is a user's location recorded?
  • Why is this information not encrypted?
  • To whom, if anyone, including Apple, has this data been disclosed?
  • What is the purpose of collecting this location data?

The full text of the letter can be read here.

Protecting Minnesotans' consumer rights and privacy has been a priority for Sen. Franken since he came to the Senate. Last year, he pressed Attorney General Holder to incorporate an analysis of geotags-information about a person's location that is embedded in photos and videos taken with GPS-equipped smartphones-into an updated stalking victimization study connected to the National Crime Victimization Survey. Sen. Franken also joined with several of his Senate colleagues in urging Facebook to strengthen its privacy policies with respect to users' personal information.

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