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US Senators seek probe against Apple, Google for mobile tracking

Individuals who seek abortions would be particularly vulnerable if their data, specifically location information, is collected and shared, four senate Democrats said, citing the recent US Supreme judgment

June 26, 2022 / 02:14 PM IST
Warren was of the view that the deal could hurt consumers and have anti-competitive effects in the streaming space and beyond. (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times)

Warren was of the view that the deal could hurt consumers and have anti-competitive effects in the streaming space and beyond. (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times)

A group of Senate Democrats has urged the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Apple and Google over "unfair and deceptive practices by enabling the collection and sale of hundreds of millions of mobile phone users’ personal data".

In a letter, reviewed by Ars Technica, to FTC chair Lina Khan, senators Ron Wyden, Elizabeth Warren, Cory A Booker, and Sara Jacobs said these companies had "facilitated these harmful practices by building advertising-specific tracking IDs into their mobile operating systems". Ars Technica is a news website with a focus on the information technology sector.

Taking the monumental overturning of abortion rights by the US Supreme Court into consideration, the senators said individuals who seek abortions would be particularly vulnerable if their data, specifically location information, was collected and shared.

They said data brokers were already selling location information of people who sought abortions.

While the advertising IDs employed by Google and Apple are supposed to collect information in an anonymous way, the senators said that data brokers were already finding ways to access that information, and selling consumer names, location info, email ids, and telephone numbers to the highest bidders.

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A Google spokesperson told Ars Technica, "Google never sells user data, and Google Play strictly prohibits the sale of user data by developers... Any claims that advertising ID was created to facilitate data sale are simply false."

The senators said while Apple and Google introduced countermeasures that limited user tracking, or required user permission to enable tracking, the damage had already been done.

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

This is the latest flashpoint in a string of allegations against Big Tech, which is facing increased scrutiny as well as actions for violation of privacy and sharing of personal data.
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