Senator demands answers from Apple
April 21st, 2011
01:45 PM ET
12 years ago

Senator demands answers from Apple

Washington (CNN) – Democratic Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota, fired off a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs late Wednesday demanding to know why the company's iPhones and iPads are reportedly compiling secret data tracking customers' whereabouts when they use or carry their devices.

A self-described hacker and a former Apple employee say they recently discovered secret lines of code in Apple's latest operating system known as IOS-4 and, in an article released Wednesday, say it contains data showing consumers' whereabouts every time they use or even just carry a web enabled iPhone or iPad.

The duo also just released an application that allows users to see what information has been collected on their devices.

In his letter, Franken says the, "existence of this information – stored in an unencrypted format – raises serious privacy concerns." He adds, "Anyone who gains access to this single file could likely determine the location of a user's home, the businesses he frequents, the doctors he visits, the schools his children attend, and the trips he has taken."

The Minnesota Democrat wants to know why Apple is collecting the data, how it is generated, why it's not encrypted, and why Apple customers, "were never affirmatively informed of the collection and retention of their location data."

Franken also asks Jobs to explain who this information has been disclosed to, including Apple.

The researchers, Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden who discovered the code, say there is no evidence that the location information is sent back to Apple and, from what they can tell, it only exists on individual iPhones, iPads, and the computers that people sync those devices to.

A spokesman for Franken tells CNN that the Senator has no plans to call hearings on the matter and has not set a deadline for Jobs or Apple to respond to the letter.

Democratic Rep. Ed Markey, Massachusetts, penned a similar note to Apple Thursday saying, "Collecting, storing and disclosing a consumer's location for commercial purposes without their express permission is unacceptable and would violate current law." And he asked Jobs to explain the company's practices. The Democratic political activist group Moveon.Org also announced Thursday that they are organizing a petition drive demanding that Apple reverse course. The petition reads, "Recording our location fingerprints is an outrageous breach of our privacy and our security. You opened this iPhone/iPad security hole-now close it."

Filed under: Al Franken
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. ConservaFascists -aka- Mammon

    I'm concerned about all of this new technology. All smartphones have GPS which can pinpoint your location. I don't see how Apple's technology is any more harmful than any other technology or applications. Heck, Facebook knows more about your personal life more than your family does. It's all Big Brother keeping a watchful eye over us(sarcasm here).

    April 21, 2011 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  2. Man

    Apple spit on this conmedian face. You stole the election from Norm Coleman!!!

    April 21, 2011 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  3. Rudy NYC

    It could be leftover test software in the OS. Regardless, it would make for a great ant-theft tracking feature. Imagine, your IPAD has Lo-Jack built into it automatically.

    April 21, 2011 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  4. Angus001

    Be careful Al... Remember that the democrats are in the White House now.

    April 21, 2011 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  5. Rudy NYC

    I can think of several benign reasons for the software to be there. Most sophisticated computer software have undocumented features; hidden diagnostic software, backdoor startup to reset OS, old test code that was never removed, etc.

    I can also let my imagination run wild and envision all sorts of doomsday scenarios, hidden agendas, and ulterior motives.

    April 21, 2011 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  6. olcranky

    I'm confused as to what the big deal is here. It's well known that smartphones (and some other phones) have GPS tracking and a very large number of users take advantage of this by allowing certain apps to determine their locations as well as to publicly "check in" to locations. Don't people assume that GPS devices log locations?

    April 21, 2011 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  7. Rudy NYC

    Rep. Franken, did you nod off to sleep duirng a national security briefing? Business off a variety of types are being asked to do stuff in the name of U.S. national security.

    Al, you need to read the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Remember that it came along after the Bay of Pigs, and while the nation was reeling from the Kennedy assasinattion. It contains clauses that will give you goose bumps. There are clauses that pretty much grant the POTUS a blank check to write an executive order to do anything he sees fit in the name of national security

    I've always wondered why they needed the Patriot Act, but I guess they wanted to include a larger circle of participants without making themselves look like dictators.

    April 21, 2011 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  8. Robert

    Now you know why business people have Blackberries. Better security, encryption of files/messages.

    April 21, 2011 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |