Madison Ruppert, Contributing Writer
United States Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer has recommended that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigate the reports which claim that applications available on Apple’s iOS platform and Google’s Android operating system are able to steal private photographs and other personal information from users.
I previously reported on this widespread practice which, in fact, is far from secret as much of the abilities of such applications are outlined in the Android Market listings.
This latest request coming from Senator Schumer, a Democrat, comes after Apple made some changes to their privacy policies last month due to pressure from others in Washington.
Schumer said that he was concerned about a report from the New York Times which said that iPhone and Android applications are able to gain access to a user’s private photo collection, although that is far from all they can gain access to, as I have previously pointed out.
Indeed, some applications are able to remotely control the phone’s camera, even being able to take pictures and video without the user’s knowledge or consent.
He also pointed to last month’s revelation that some applications on Apple devices are actually able to remotely upload the entire contact list of a user to their own servers, including names, telephone numbers, email addresses and potentially any other information included in the address book.
“These uses go well beyond what a reasonable user understands himself to be consenting to when he allows an app to access data on the phone for purposes of the app’s functionality,” Schumer said in his letter to the FTC, according to Reuters.
His point is a valid one, as many people do not realize that by giving an application permission to use their location information, they give the application full control of such information and potentially the ability to gather and store data without users knowing.
Schumer said that he believed that much of this capability violates the terms of services of both the Apple and Android platforms, but I do not know if that is accurate.
“It is not clear whether or how those terms of service are being enforced and monitored,” Schumer rightly pointed out.
Due to this complete lack of transparency, Schumer said that “smartphone makers should be required to put in place safety measures to ensure third party applications are not able to violate a user’s personal privacy by stealing photographs or data the user did not consciously decide to make public.”
“When someone takes a private photo, on a private cell phone, it should remain just that: private,” Schumer added.
Personally, I think the only solution is to construct privacy policies which anyone can easily understand along with demanding that every application and service be straightforward with what information they are collecting, why they are collecting it and exactly what they do with it.
Furthermore, I believe that every individual should have full control and ownership over their personal data no matter how it was collected and what it is used for.
This would allow anyone to demand that their information be removed from a private database or other storage system and better handle their private lives.
Whenever a company is forced through court order or asked by a government agency to hand over personal information on a user, the company should have to notify the user and provide details of exactly what information was provided.
The current opaque nature of the data gathering industry – which is only becoming increasingly robust and widespread – is unacceptable and hopefully more of our so-called representatives will do their job and actually stand up for the American people in the face of this corporate Big Brother.