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Congressmen query Apple on privacy policy changes

Co-Chairmen of the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus send a letter to Steve Jobs regarding reports that Apple has been gathering location information from iPhone users.

The House Privacy Caucus has sent a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking about the company's policy on gathering location data on iPhone owners.
The House Privacy Caucus has sent a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking about the company's policy on gathering location data on iPhone owners. James Martin/CNET

Apple's privacy policy update for iOS device users has attracted the attention of Washington.

On Thursday, coinciding with Apple's high-profile first day sale of the iPhone 4, Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) announced that they have sent a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs expressing their concerns and asking for answers regarding reports that Apple is gathering location information on its customers.

"Given the limited ability of Apple users to opt out of the revised policy and still be able to take advantage of the features of their Apple products, we are concerned about the impact the collection of such data could have on the privacy of Apple's customers," the letter reads.

Markey and Barton are co-chairmen of the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus.

Apple updated its privacy policy on Monday to underscore that when you use location-based services on your iOS device, Apple will be sharing your location with that service. Users can turn off all location-based services on the settings menu of any iOS device.

The update added this to the company's overall privacy policy:

To provide location-based services on Apple products, Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services.

Some location-based services offered by Apple, such as the MobileMe "Find My iPhone" feature, require your personal information for the feature to work.

Markey and Barton's letter included the following list of questions for Apple to answer, with a deadline of July 12:

  1. Which specific Apple products are being used by Apple to collect geographic location data?
  2. When did Apple begin collecting this location data, and how often is data collected from a given consumer?
  3. Does Apple collect this location data from all consumers using Apple products? If the answer is no, please explain which consumers Apple is collecting information from and the reasons that these consumers were chosen for monitoring.
  4. How many consumers are subject to this collection of location data?
  5. What internal procedures are in place to ensure that any location data is stored "anonymously in a form that does not personally identify" individual consumers? Please explain in detail why Apple decided to begin collecting location data at this time, and how it intends to use the data.
  6. Is Apple sharing consumer location information collected through iPhones and iPads with AT&T or other telecommunications carriers?
  7. Who are the unspecified "partners and licensees" with which Apple shares this location data, and what are the terms and conditions of such information sharing?
  8. How does this comply with the requirements of Section 222 of the Communications Act, which mandates that no consumer location information be shared without the explicit prior consent of the consumer?
  9. Does Apple believe that legal boilerplate in a general information policy, which the consumer must agree to in order to download applications or updates, is fully consistent with the intent of Section 222, and sufficient to inform the consumer that the consumer's location may be disclosed to other parties?
  10. Has Apple or its legal counsel conducted an analysis of this issue? If yes, please provide a copy. If not, why not?

It's unclear if Apple has indeed received the letter yet. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.