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Apple, Google called to U.S. Senate hearing on mobile privacy

As the controversy over persistent location tracking in the iPhone and Google Android devices continues to surge, representatives from Apple and Google have been summoned to a Senate judiciary hearing on mobile technology privacy in May.

Democratic Senator Al Franken, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, will hold the hearing, titled "Protecting Mobile Privacy: Your Smartphones, Tablets, Cell Phones and Your Privacy," on May 10.

Alongside the requested representatives from Apple and Google, witnesses at the hearing would include officials from the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission; Ashkan Soltani, independent privacy researcher and consultant and Justin Brookman, Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology's Project on Consumer Privacy.

“Recent advances in mobile technology have allowed Americans to stay connected like never before and put an astonishing number of resources at our fingertips,” Franken said in a statement. “But the same technology that has given us smartphones, tablets, and cell phones has also allowed these devices to gather extremely sensitive information about users, including detailed records of their daily movements and location. This hearing is the first step in making certain that federal laws protecting consumers’ privacy—particularly when it comes to mobile devices—keep pace with advances in technology."

After security researchers revealed last week that Apple's iOS 4 operating system stores a detailed log of user's locations, Franken and other government officials sent concerned letters to Apple.

Last week, two customers filed a class-action lawsuit against Apple, seeking refunds for their iPhones. The plaintiffs claimed they would never have bought the devices if they had known of the location tracking.

A report from The Wall Street Journal on Monday further ignited the issue when it revealed that location tracking appears to continue on the iPhone even when location services are disabled on the device.

South Korea, France, Germany and Italy have all reportedly initiated investigations into the practice.

iPhone location data plotted | Source: O'Reilly Radar

Also on Monday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan called for a meeting with Apple and Google in a letter to the companies addressing concerns over the storing of user location data.

“I want to know whether consumers have been informed of what is being tracked and stored by Apple and Google and whether those tracking and storage features can be disabled,” said Madigan. “It’s important that these companies ensure that their users’ private information is protected.”