House lawmakers want to know how Apple and Google's parent company Alphabet are handling their users’ personal information, including spoken words, email content and location data. According to The Wall Street Journal, leaders of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce sent letters to both companies’ CEOs demanding the information after recent media reports and additional information have raised questions about how consumer information is being collected and used.
In the letter to Alphabet CEO Larry Page, the lawmakers pointed to recent reports that the company's Android smartphone operating system collects extensive user-location data and reports it back to Google even when location services are disabled. Since many consumers most likely assume their phones aren’t tracking them when the services are turned off, “this alleged behavior is troubling,” according to the letter, which was signed by the committee’s chairman, Greg Walden (R., OR), as well as three subcommittee chairmen, Reps. Gregg Harper (R., MI), Marsha Blackburn (R., TN) and Robert Latta (R., OH).
The letter also mentions a recent report that Google allows third parties to access the content of users’ emails, even after the company announced last year it would put an end to the practice to “keep privacy and security paramount.”
The letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook posed similar questions about whether its smartphones collect and transmit extensive location data. Both letters expressed concerns over reports that smartphones in general can and sometimes collect extensive audio data that can be accessed by third parties.
Google said in a statement on Monday (July 9), “Protecting our users’ privacy and securing their information is of the utmost importance to Google. We look forward to answering the committee’s questions.”
Apple declined to comment.
The lawmakers want detailed information about the companies’ practices, especially regarding tracking on users’ locations, collecting audio data from users’ conversations and sharing their data with third parties, such as app developers. In addition, Google has been asked for “a comprehensive list of the companies with access to a user’s email contents on Gmail,” as well as information about what restrictions it places on the use of the data by app makers.