Apple, Google will testify on privacy

Both Apple and Google have agreed to testify at a May 10 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee's privacy sub-panel, where they will be joined by representatives from the Justice Department (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Full committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and subcommittee Chairman Al Franken (D-Minn.) called for the hearing in the wake of reports that both Apple's and Google's smartphone platforms save and transmit user location data. Both firms have denied tracking the location of consumers' smartphones.

“This hearing will serve as a first step in investigating if federal law protecting consumer privacy — particularly when it relates to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets — is keeping pace with advances in technology," Franken said in a statement.

Both Apple and Google have accepted the senators' invitation to testify as bipartisan momentum for consumer privacy legislation continues to build on Capitol Hill. Apple has stated it doesn't obtain users' location data without their consent and said a bug caused the phones to save location data indefinitely.

Other witnesses slated to appear include representatives from DOJ and the FTC along with independent privacy researcher Ashkan Soltani and Justin Brookman from the Center for Democracy and Technology.

“I am pleased that both Google and Apple have accepted the committee’s invitation to testify about consumer privacy issues related to smartphones, tablets and other mobile technologies," Leahy said in a statement.

"As the Congress works to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and other federal privacy laws, it is essential that policymakers and the American people have complete and accurate information about the privacy implications of these new technologies."

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to a number of smartphone makers, including Apple and Google, earlier this week, suggesting protecting consumer privacy might be the rare exception to the anti-regulatory sentiment driving the House GOP this year.

Update: A Google spokesman provided the following comment by email:

“We look forward to engaging with policymakers about how we protect our users' mobile privacy. All location sharing on Android is opt-in by the user. We provide users with notice and control over the collection, sharing and use of location in order to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices. Any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user.”

This post was updated on April 29 at 10:44 a.m.

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