Apple, Google play their roles in Senate subcommittee political theater production

Companies vow unwavering commitment to privacy; legislators act concerned

Tuesday's appearance by Apple and Google executives before a U.S. Senate subcommittee asking about each company's much-criticized location data policies was a win-win for all concerned.

The corporate representatives got to express their fervent desire to respect consumer privacy and choice, while the senators got to look senatorial and fiercely committed to protecting the rights of regular voters Americans from multi-billion companies that contribute generously to political campaigns and staff small armies of Washington lobbyists to make sure their "rights" are protected even more.

Late last month it was revealed that Apple's iPhone stores location data for up to a year. Shortly after, Google admitted that smartphones running its Android mobile OS also stored user location data. Both companies said their users either were notified at the time of purchase or told they could opt in to tracking.

The Tuesday morning hearing conducted by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law was titled "Protecting Mobile Privacy: Your Smartphones, Tablets, Cell Phones and Your Privacy" and was sponsored by Verizon (just kidding).

Here's Apple Vice President of Software Technology Guy L. "Bud" Tribble taking his turn in the spotlight (via Apple Insider):

"Apple is strongly committed to giving our customers clear and transparent notice, choice and control over their information, and we believe our products do so in a simple and elegant way."

Further, Tribble said, "Apple was never tracking an individual's location from the information residing in that cache." And do you know why (that is, besides Apple's solemn commitment to user privacy)? Here's why, according to Apple Insider:

[Tribble] added that Apple did not have access to the cache, and the information was also protected from other applications on a user's phone.

See? Nobody will ever see that location data cache that was created for some reason. Now can we end this thing?

Not before Google's star turn. From the Wall Street Journal:

Alan Davidson, Google's director of public policy, stressed that the company's location-based services are optional. "We don't collect any location information—any at all—through our location services on Android devices unless the user specifically chooses to share this information with Google," he said.

None at all. How could anyone even suggest such a thing? It's like they think Google would go right up to the creepy line or something.

Sen. Al Franken, panel chairman and headlining legislator, delivered with his familiar baritone this reassuring line: "What today is about is trying to find a balance between all those wonderful benefits and the public's right to privacy."

Those "wonderful benefits" referenced by the Minnesota senator include things like Google Maps, which admittedly requires some sense of where the user is at the moment.

But Franken got to the bottom line when he warned that, in their zeal to protect the privacy of Americans, lawmakers should be careful not to snuff out "incredible" new technologies that make it easy for marketers to track our every move.

Don't worry. They won't.

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