Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.), who recently introduced legislation to protect people online from being tracked, today asked Apple, Inc., to take steps on its own to restrict tracking.
“Your company enjoys a better reputation than most large tech firms when it comes to privacy,” Sen. Hawley said in a letter to Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive officer. “But you can still do better.”
He noted a recent “Washington Post” report that revealed that some iPhone apps engage in large amounts of undisclosed tracking.
“Without adequately informing users, developers hide trackers that transmit reams of data to ad networks and other third parties. Your policies allow users to limit app permissions for system-level data like personal contacts and location services. Yet these reports reveal that your policies do not prevent apps from pilfering mountains of other data and then sharing it with third parties,” he said.
One source of hidden tracking, Sen. Hawley said, is “middleware” that is reused by app developers. “Developers typically incorporate bundles of code from other developers. So a person who uses an app potentially exposes her data not only to the app developer, but also every app developer on which the principal developer relied. These sub-developers routinely design their software to thwart reasonable attempts to restrict tracking,” he said.
The Do Not Track Act (S 1578) that he introduced last month would direct the Federal Trade Commission to create the online equivalent of the national Do Not Call Registry, enabling Internet users to request websites and other companies not to collect data beyond what is needed to deliver their online services and requiring companies to honor those requests, he noted (TR Daily, May 21).
“But you have the power to provide these protections to your customers even before Congress acts,” Sen. Hawley said. “If your company is serious about protecting privacy, you should give your customers the power to block all companies from collecting or sharing any data that is not indispensable to the companies’ online services.”
“The method for doing so is simple. You need only require app developers, as a condition for appearing in the App Store, to certify that their apps will not collect data beyond what is indispensable to the companies’ online services if a user activates the ‘Limit Ad Tracking’ feature that you already provide,” he said.
“If a company collects this data after certifying otherwise, it would clearly violate federal and state prohibitions on unfair or deceptive trade practices, and existing remedies would be available to protect consumers,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mozilla Corp. announced that it was deploying a new feature for its Firefox browser today that would provide better tracking protection. The “enhanced tracking protection” feature will be activated and available to all new users by default, according to Dave Camp, Firefox’s senior vice president.
“Enhanced tracking protection will be practically invisible to you, and you’ll only notice that it’s operating when you visit a site and see a shield icon in the address bar next to the URL address and the small ‘i’ icon. When you see the shield icon, you should feel safe that Firefox is blocking thousands of companies from your online activity,” Mr. Camp said in a blog posting.
Ed Black, president and CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, praised the move by Firefox. "Competition between products that respond to different consumer preferences serves consumers better than heavy-handed regulation,” he said in a statement. “This action expands the choices consumers have when it comes to online privacy.” —Tom Leithauser, [email protected]
MainStory: Privacy Congress FederalNews
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