AG wants answers on tracking from Apple, Google

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan wants to know what both companies are doing with location information and why there's not a way to turn it off.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read

Citing a need to protect consumers' personal information online, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is calling for a meeting with executives from Apple and Google to get more details on what the companies are doing with location information collected from consumer devices.

In a statement posted to Madigan's site and picked up by Reuters, letters from Madigan have been sent to both companies asking about what data is being kept and for how long. The attorney general also seeks to find out what that data is being used for.

"I want to know whether consumers have been informed of what is being tracked and stored by Apple and Google and whether those tracking and storage features can be disabled," Madigan said in a statement. "It's important that these companies ensure that their users' private information is protected."

Madigan's efforts join those of other politicians and government groups who want to know more about what companies are doing with location information. Shortly following the onset last week of the iOS location controversy, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) sent a letter to Apple chiding the company for not encrypting location information that was stored locally on iPhones, as well as in iOS device backups. Congressman Ed Markey, who along with Rep. Joe Barton inquired about location privacy to Apple last year, followed suit, sending another letter (PDF) asking the company to explain what the data was being used for. There's also a lawsuit by two Apple customers, filed today in Tampa, Fla. that claims Apple's tracking is a privacy invasion and an act of computer fraud.

Interest in location privacy has picked up last week in light of a database file of timestamped location information found to be stored on certain iOS devices from Apple. The tracking file was a well-known feature in the forensics and law enforcement community, but Apple has now come under fire for not answering questions about why it's there, and why there's not a way to turn the feature off.

Google has also become a target of interest for what it does with user location data retrieved from its Android mobile operating system, which already makes use of user location to better its services, such as providing more accurate traffic data to its Maps product. It remains to be seen whether companies like Microsoft, Research in Motion, and Nokia do similar things with user location data.

Within Madigan's letters, which can be read in full below, the AG asks whether third parties are given location information, as well as if users on both platforms can opt out of the storage of the location data. In Apple's case, the question is posed as "why didn't Apple provide customers with an opportunity to opt-out of the storage of this data?" Madigan also asks Apple if there's a "mechanism whereby Apple customers can delete the information that has been stored," which is of special interest given some of the only tools that allow that have been targeted at those with jailbroken iPhones and iPads.

Madigan's office is giving both companies until May 6 to respond.

Madigan's letter to Apple:

Apple 042511 Geolocation Ltr