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Friday, May 20, 2011, 12:00 am PT (03:00 am ET)

Apple to US Senate: We have no plans to ever track users' locations

At the company's second U.S. Senate hearing in weeks, Apple told senators that it does not, has never and has no plans to ever track users' locations.

Apple Vice President of Global Affairs Catherine Novelli testified before the Senate Consumer Protection, Safety and Insurance subcommittee on Thursday, along with representatives from Google and Facebook, MacNN reports. Titled "Consumer Privacy and Protection in the Mobile Marketplace," the hearing came on the heels of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing that took place last week.

Apple largely held to its stance from the prior hearing. "Apple does not track users' locations — Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so," Novelli said.

Senators have turned their attention to the issue of mobile privacy recently partly in response to a report from security researchers last month that claimed Apple was pervasively tracking users' locations in a database file in iOS 4. Apple issued a statement denying the claims, asserting instead that the database was a crowd-sourced collection of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers used to help the iPhone's location services operate more quickly and accurately.

At Thursday's hearing, Google maintained its position that the open nature of Google Android requires in a hands-off approach to third-party applications.

"Google does not and cannot control the behavior of third-party applications, or how they handle location information and other user information that the third-party application obtains from the device," said Google's director of public policy for the Americas, Alan Davidson. "Google does strongly encourage application developers to use best practices," which include providing a set privacy policy, avoiding logging, and presenting options for data control.

Senators voiced their concerns at the hearing, raising the question whether geotracking can ever be legitimate. "I think anyone who uses a mobile device has an expectation of privacy, and sadly that expectation is not always being met," Sen. John Rockefeller IV said during the hearing. Rockefeller also expressed his dissatisfaction with "totally unregulated" state of the app market. The possibility of a "do not track" list was also raised during the discussion.