European Union may place tougher privacy restrictions on Apple

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A new statement from the European Union could lead to greater restrictions on the handling of location data on mobile devices for companies like Apple and Google.

EU privacy officials published a nonbinding opinion this week stating that users must be given "clear, comprehensive" information about location data, according to Bloomberg. The opinion comes as data protection officials in Europe continue to investigate the iPhone location services controversy that recently erupted.

The new EU opinion states that information collected through Wi-Fi and location services is considered "personal data." Such a classification would make the data subject to EU privacy rules.

The opinion came from the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, and though it is nonbinding, experts said it could lead to sanctions on companies like Apple and Google.

When asked for a comment on the opinion, Apple declined to comment. A Google spokesperson said the company is reviewing the paper, but added that the search giant cannot identify anyone using Wi-Fi header information. "Nor would we want to," said spokesman Al Verney.

Privacy concerns related to mobile devices came to light when a pair of security researchers discovered that Apple's iOS 4 mobile operating system recorded location data and saved it in a hidden file unbeknownst to users. That data was never transmitted to anyone, and the issue was quickly addressed with the release of iOS 4.3.3.

Both Apple and Google took part in a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing earlier this month, in which Apple's vice president of software technology, Guy L. "Bud" Tribble, asserted that user privacy is one of his company's highest priorities. He explained that Apple has a crowd-sourced collection of cell phone towers and Wi-Fi hotspots that aid in allowing users' iPhones to assess their location quickly, before a GPS signal can be obtained.

Apple also issued a series of answers about the controversy, and Chief Executive Steve Jobs himself participated in interviews in an attempt to ease concerns. But Apple still faces government investigations on iPhone privacy across the globe, including in France, Germany and Italy.

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