Insights & Analyses

Lawmakers question Google, Apple CEOs over identity data collection – One World Identity

July 9, 2018

Executives at tech giants Google and Apple have been sent a formal list of questions from members of the U.S. House of Representatives, seeking details on their collection and handling of sensitive personally identifiable information.

Letters to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook, as well as Larry Page, the CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet, were sent on Monday, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Of particular interest to elected officials was a report claiming that detailed location information is collected from Android phones and shared with Google, even when location services are disabled on the device. Officials also pushed the search giant on practices that allow third parties to read emails stored in a user’s Gmail account.

The questions came from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) and including Reps. Gregg Harper (R-MS), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Robert Latta (R-OH).

The lawmakers are interested in how both iPhones and Android devices collect data, including audio captured by smartphones, as well as information shared with third-party developers.

Specifically regarding Apple, legislators asked about recent changes to App Store policies that restrict developer access to user data. The letter seeks to find out what steps Apple takes to protect data when it is shared and compiled.

The questions come months after officials in Washington grilled Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg about how the social network manages and protects user data. Facebook came under fire when it was revealed that a third-party company, Cambridge Analytica, improperly collected and used data from the site to help influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

OWI Insight: Legislators are widening their scope in cracking down on data privacy issues, going beyond Facebook to two of the biggest names in Silicon Valley: Apple and Google. While federal legislation to protect PII still seems unlikely, the questions show that privacy remains top of mind for lawmakers and their constituents. Notably absent from the questions, however, was Amazon, whose Echo personal assistant has made headlines recently when it recorded and shared a user’s private conversation. We suspect that these discussions on privacy will continue at the federal level, with more companies questioned by Congress, and the possibility of executives personally testifying before committees, just as Zuckerberg did.