Congress presses Apple, Alphabet on privacy issues

In a pair of letters, the House asks about offline data collection, third-party apps and embedded microphones.

Marrian Zhou Staff Reporter
Marrian Zhou is a Beijing-born Californian living in New York City. She joined CNET as a staff reporter upon graduation from Columbia Journalism School. When Marrian is not reporting, she is probably binge watching, playing saxophone or eating hot pot.
Marrian Zhou

House Committee on Energy and Commerce sends letters to Apple and Google asking how the companies protect users' privacy on iPhones and Android phones.

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The US Congress is getting public about its concerns over privacy .

On Monday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce released letters sent to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Larry Page inquiring how the companies protect users' privacy. Many of the questions for the executives were about mobile products, such as Apple's iPhone and the Android operating system made by Alphabet subsidiary Google .

The letters reference concerns that mobile devices track their users' whereabouts, even when they have taken precautions to prevent such monitoring. The committee was particularly interested in the possibility of offline data collection through location services, cellular towers, Wi-Fi hotspots and Bluetooth connection.

"Considering that many consumers likely believe that a phone that lacks a SIM card , or one for which they have affirmatively disabled location services, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth -- such as through turning on 'Airplane Mode' -- is not actively tracking them, this alleged behavior is troubling," both letters read.

The letters also touched on the ability of third-party apps to collect data, microphones embedded in smartphones and Gmail access for third-party developers.

Lawmakers asked the companies to reply by July 23. Apple declined to comment and Alphabet didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The request for information comes amid mounting interest in privacy matters in Washington, which has been fueled by scandals at Facebook

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