House Republicans question Google, Apple on consumer privacy

House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee raised concerns about consumer privacy policies at major technology companies in the aftermath of reports that smartphones collect, store and sometimes transmit data about users' whereabouts. 

Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) joined four Republicans on his panel in questioning Google, Apple, Research in Motion, Nokia and HP about their privacy policies in letters sent Monday. Press reports about smartphone tracking have largely surrounded the iPhone and devices running Google's Android software. 

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The lawmakers asked a series of questions including how long their devices store data, which laws apply to the companies and whether the companies are planning to implement measures to alleviate privacy concerns. They addressed their questions to the famous chief executives of those companies, including Steve Jobs of Apple and Larry Page of Google, requesting a response by May 9.

In a rare break with the anti-regulatory sentiments defining their party this year, various House Republicans say there may be an appropriate role for the government when it comes to protecting consumer privacy on high-tech platforms. 

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) has introduced an online privacy bill and Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), chairwoman of the Energy and Commerce Trade subcommittee, has promised to dive into the issue. 

Along with Upton, the letter to the technology chiefs included the top Republicans of two key subcommittees: Bono Mack and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) from Trade and Reps. Greg Walden (Ore.) and Lee Terry (Neb.) from Communications.