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Google and Apple and the Latest Privacy Concerns

In separate developments both Google and Apple are facing new privacy probes by the government.  In Google’s case, both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and a European effort led by the French Commission Nationale de L’Informatique et des Libertes (CNIL) are investigating the company for bypassing users’ privacy settings on their Apple Safari browser.  The Wall Street Journal reported in February that Google was installing cookies on devices even if the person had set the device to block this type of tracking.  Once contacted by the newspaper, Google did report that it had stopped the practice. 

The FTC is investigating whether Google violated its recent settlement with the government in which Google pledged “not to ‘misrepresent’ its privacy practices to consumers.”  If found liable for this violation, Google could face fines of $16,000 per day, per violation. The key here is whether or not it can be proved that Google was acting intentionally or inadvertently.

The CNIL has added the Safari circumvention to its existing investigation into Google’s recent changes to its privacy policy.  It is important to note that the CNIL has already fined Google the equivalent of $130,960 for collecting personal information for its Street View service.

As for Apple, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) have requested a briefing with the company regarding its privacy policies for mobile device applications.  Apple has already responded to questions from these members, but the Congressmen were not satisfied. "The March 2 reply we received from Apple does not answer a number of the questions we raised about the company’s efforts to protect the privacy and security of its mobile device users," they wrote.  They remain concerned that apps on the iPhone and iPad are able to access users’ address books without their consent.  Apple changed its policy to require that third-party apps receive explicit user approval before accessing their address books after receiving the initial letter from Reps. Waxman and Butterfield.

EDUCAUSE will continue to monitor and report on these issues.

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