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Lawmakers Ratchet Up Pressure on Apps Makers

March 22, 2012

Top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are ratcheting up their pressure on mobile application sellers and developers by turning their attention to what information social apps collect from users.

Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee ranking member G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., want information from 34 social app makers about what information they gather, how they collect it and whether they are adequately notifying users about such practices. Among the companies targeted by the lawmakers include Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Path, which came under fire recently after it was revealed its app secretly uploaded the contents of iPhone users address books.

"We are writing to you because we want to better understand the information collection
and use policies and practices of apps for Apple's mobile devices with a social element," Waxman and Butterfield said in a letter Thursday to Apple CEO Tim Cook. The lawmakers sent similar letters to other app makers.

The lawmakers are seeking information by April 12 about whether social apps like Apples's "Find My Friends" app download from a user's phone such data as their address book, phone number, e-mail, account information, calendar or photos and whether they provide adequate notice to users about such practices.

The latest data request is part of an ongoing probe the two Democrats have launched examining the privacy practices and protections related to mobile apps. Spokesmen for both lawmakers did not respond to requests for comment on whether the lawmakers are contemplating legislation to address their concerns with the issue. In response to the lawmakers' inquiries about Path's privacy violation, Apple told the lawmakers earlier this month that the company pressed Path and other app makers to ensure users get proper notice before accessing their personal data.

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