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Summary:

Almost a week after the New York Times demonstrated that iOS and Android apps could upload a customer’s photo library to a remote server without their express permission, Sen. Charles Schumer is stating the obvious: they should fix that — and he wants the FTC to investigate.

Chuck Schumer

Almost a week after the New York Times demonstrated that an iOS app could upload a customer’s photo library to a remote server without their knowledge or express permission, the newspaper’s home-state senator is stating the obvious: Apple should fix that. And while it’s at it, start making apps ask for permission when uploading a user’s entire address book. For extra incentive to fix it quickly, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York is publicly calling for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the issue, as Reuters reported Sunday night.

It’s not just Apple’s mobile software that has been caught with this loophole, but Google’s Android apps too — the Times followed up last week on its iOS story with another demonstration showing that Android apps could also access the user’s photos unbeknownst to them. Schumer wants the FTC to set its sights on Google in this case too.

Saying what most logical people are thinking, Schumer writes: “These uses go well beyond what a reasonable user understands himself to be consenting to when he allows an app to access data on the phone for purposes of the app’s functionality.”

He adds:

Smartphone makers should be required to put in place safety measures to ensure third party applications are not able to violate a user’s personal privacy by stealing photographs or data that the user did not consciously decide to make public … When someone takes a private photo, on a private cell phone, it should remain just that: private.

It’s good to know our elected officials are paying attention. Though this call for investigation could fall into the category of “too little, too late” since Apple is rumored to be working on a fix.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment, and it has not said anything publicly despite the brouhaha that’s broken out over the photo libraries — though it would be just like Apple to not say a word, and just issue a fix.

Google also appears to know this is a problem and has made noises that it’s time to think about an update.

Photo from Sen. Schumer’s official Flickr feed.

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  1. Scott Fossel Monday, March 5, 2012

    Data point after data point is emerging now: Isn’t it becoming clear that these are no just “oops!” moments, but rather the covert but internal explicit strategy now of the big tech companies to move towards accessing our data as they like whenever they like? Isn’t it the same as what has happened with Wall Street trades? The pace of technology is so far outstripping the pace of lawmaking that government is simply no longer in charge of our privacy in any real or substantial way, the way that it is no longer in charge of the financial markets. What we are seeing are the opening salvos in a splinter war between the big tech companies who are in pitched battles with one another now to own our data—breeches of the old idea of privacy are the new normal.

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