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FTC asked to investigate Apple & Google over selling personal data

App Tracking Transparency

Four lawmakers want an FTC investigation into the "harmful practices" of Apple and Google in allegedly gathering personal information and profiting from it.

Even as Apple's privacy moves have reportedly cost Facebook billions of dollars in lost revenue, four Democrats believe it is not enough. Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.), and Rep. Sara Jacobs (D., Calif.), have written to the FTC requesting an investigation.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the four claim that Apple and Google "knowingly facilitated these harmful practices by building advertising-specific tracking IDs into their mobile operating systems." They do acknowledge, however, that Apple has made changes, and that Google says it will be adding similar protections.

"Until recently, however, Apple enabled this tracking ID by default and required consumers to dig through confusing phone settings to turn it off," says the letter. "Google still enables this tracking identifier by default, and until recently did not even provide consumers with an opt-out."

"These identifiers have fueled the unregulated data broker market," the lawmakers continue, "by creating a single piece of information linked to a device that data brokers and their customers can use to link to other data about consumers."

"[For example, it] is often possible to easily identify a particular consumer in a dataset of anonymous' location records," says the letter, "by looking to see where they sleep at night.

Privacy is increasingly important

Published minutes after the controversial Supreme Court ruling, the four lawmakers believe that the issue of how people can be tracked through such systems is heightened following the overturning of Roe vs Wade.

"Prosecutors in states where abortion becomes illegal will soon be able to obtain warrants for location information about anyone who has visited an abortion provider," said the four. "Private actors will also be incentivized by state bounty laws to hunt down women who have obtained or are seeking an abortion by accessing location information."

Consequently, the four want the FTC to investigate "Apple and Google's role in transforming advertising into an intense system of surveillance that incentivizes and facilitates the unrestrained collection and constant sale of Americans' personal data."

Apple's App Tracking Transparency, designed to limit possible identification of individuals, was released as part of iOS 14.5 in October 2021.

Neither Apple nor Google have commented.