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FCC, FTC invite Apple to location services forum

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission announced Tuesday they had invited Apple and Google to a June 28 "public education forum" on the benefits and risks of location-based services.

The FCC indicated that the forum will aid agency staff in producing a report on location-based services that could recommend regulation to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and other commissioners, The Los Angeles Times reports.

In addition to Apple and Google, other technology companies, wireless providers, consumer groups and academics have been invited to participate in next month's hearing.

"Over the last few years, [location-based services] have become an important part of the mobile market and a boon to the economy," the FCC said Tuesday. "Commercial location-based services include applications that help consumers find the lowest-priced product nearby or the nearest restaurant.... But recent reports have raised concerns about the location-based information that is gathered when consumers use mobile devices."

According to the report, topics at the forum will include: "how location-based services work, their benefits and risks, and information parents should know about location tracking of children using mobile devices."

The joint FCC and FTC hearing will mark the third time that Apple has been called to testify before lawmakers on the issue. Apple testified last week at a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing and will serve as a witness at a Consumer Protection, Safety and Insurance Subcommittee hearing on Thursday.

Security researchers drew attention to the location data privacy issue last month when they published a report claiming that an unencrypted database file in iOS 4 stored users' location information for as long as a year. Apple responded that the file was actually a database of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers used to help an iPhone calculate its location.

As for the size of the file, Apple attributed the issue to a bug in iOS and has since resolved the problem with the release of iOS 4.3.3. According to Apple, the iOS update reduces the size of the cache, no longer backs up the cache to iTunes and deletes the cache when Location Services is turned off.