Continuing the U.S. government's recent focus on improving the online and mobile privacy of American citizens, New York Senator Charles Schumer recently called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to launch an investigation into the privacy practices of both Apple and Google's Android.
"It sends shivers up the spine to think that one's personal photos, address book and who-knows-what-else can be obtained and even posted online - without consent," Schumer, a Democrat, said on his website. "If the technology exists to open the door to this kind of privacy invasion, then surely technology exists to close it, and that’s exactly what must happen.
The data security and privacy debate surrounding mobile devices – including both smartphones and tablets – has raged recently as the industry has made huge gains during the past several years.
According to new research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, half of American adults now own a smartphone. And it's the first time since such figures have been tracked that smartphone owners now outnumber feature phone users.
Another study from Forrester Research noted that 1 billion smartphones will be in use around the globe by 2016.
Mobile developers have viewed this trend as ripe for the picking when it comes to learning more about how consumers use their feature-rich mobile devices. This, in turn, has translated into them tracking and compiling data on users in order to develop better mobile advertising campaigns, among other things.
But it's the way in which such practices are carried out that has data privacy advocates and lawmakers like Schumer bristling. It is often done without the knowledge of the user, he argued.
Schumer said the same privacy expectations that consumers enjoy when making landline calls should be applied to mobility as well.
In his letter to the FTC, Schumer called on the organization to investigate whether or not the data collection efforts of mobile platform and application developers fall within the definition of "unfair or deceptive trade practice." He also said the FTC should require smartphone manufacturers to install safety measures on their devices to ensure that third-party mobile apps don't violate users' privacy rights.
Such measures are especially necessary when users' have not given consent for specific information – such as address books, photos and text messages – to be tracked and collected, Schumer said.
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