Top House Republicans question Apple, Alphabet on privacy
(Bloomberg) -- Alphabet Inc. and Apple Inc. are facing questions about their privacy practices from four top Republican members of Congress as tech companies fail to assuage lawmakers’ concerns.
In letters released Monday, the chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and three of its subcommittees asked Alphabet Chief Executive Officer Larry Page about reports that the Google parent "permitted third parties to access the contents of users’ emails."
The lawmakers asked Apple CEO Tim Cook, who has touted his company’s commitment to user privacy, about device data, particularly the access that third parties have to users’ information through the app store.
Both letters also ask whether the companies’ smartphones and mobile operating systems collect audio data even when users are not talking to the devices, and whether that data is shared with third parties. The letters also asked whether the phones collect location data even when location services and similar capabilities are disabled.
Users of iPhones and of Google’s Android mobile operating system "have a reasonable expectation of privacy when taking active steps to prevent being tracked by their device," the letters say.
A Google representative said in a statement the company looks "forward to answering the committee’s questions."
"Protecting our users’ privacy and securing their information is of the utmost importance to Google," the representative said.
Apple didn’t immediately responded to a request for comment.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on the letters and the access to Gmail users’ messages allegedly afforded to outside developers, which was said to come despite the company’s moves to limit access internally.
Big tech companies, particularly Facebook Inc., have been targets of increasing public scrutiny and calls, even from some Republican lawmakers, for potential regulation.
In June, for instance, the top members of the Senate Intelligence Committee said they wanted top executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter Inc. to appear before Congress to discuss the security of their platforms and the companies’ relationships with Chinese telecommunications firms. The House committee also questioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in April over Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm that secured access to the information of as many as 87 million of the site’s users without their consent.
Apple, however, has largely stayed above the fray, and has even upped its privacy controls in a jab at Facebook.
Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of the House panel that oversees most technology policy issues, was the lead signer of the letters. Three fellow Republicans, Representatives Gregg Harper of Mississippi, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Robert Latta of Ohio, also signed.