Sen. Chuck Schumer Champions Push To Protect Privacy Of Smartphone Sexters

Bad news, smart phone users: those penis private pics you snapped with your iPhone aren't as private as you'd probably hoped.

Senator Chuck Schumer to the rescue.

Schumer today announced that he's asked the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into whether smart phone apps on Apple and Android platforms are able to "steal" private photos and other information from a person's smart phone.

The senator's request is in response to an article that appeared in the New York Times last week claiming that certain apps for iPhones and Androids can actually "gain access to a customer's private photo collection, and in some cases share the information online."

"When someone takes a private photo, on a private cell phone, it should remain just that: private," Schumer says in a press release. "Smartphone developers have an obligation to protect the private content of their users and not allow them to be veritable treasure troves of private, personal information that can then be uploaded and distributed without the consumer's consent."

Schumer says two "independent technologists" found loopholes in both Android and Apple operating systems that allow access to the private information -- in Apple's case, if a user allows an app to use location data (GPS-based applications), the user also is allowing the app access to photos and videos, which could be uploaded to outside servers and blasted across the Internet. With the Android system, if the user allows an app to use Internet services, the app also gains access to photo albums.

Schumer made his request in a letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, which you can read below. 

Dear Chairman Leibowitz,

I write today to ask the Federal Trade Commission to investigate a disturbing and potentially unfair practice in the smartphone application market. We have seen a number of reports recently about apps that are leaking user data without user knowledge. Specifically, there have been reports about apps which allow a user's photos, videos, location data, and address books not only to be accessed by the app (and its developers) but also copied in their entirety and used for marketing or other purposes. These uses go well beyond what a reasonable user understands himself to be consenting to when he allows an app to access data on the phone for purposes of the app's functionality.

It is my understanding that many of these uses violate the terms of service of the Apple and Android platforms through which the apps are marketed and sold. However, it is not clear whether or how those terms of service are being enforced and monitored. In fact, the abuses of apps have only come to light as a result of the work of intrepid independent researchers and technologists. As a result, it is users and their privacy who suffer.

Under your leadership, the FTC has played a critical role in monitoring the evolving privacy issues in the smartphone and online market place, for example with your recent report on apps and children's privacy. I am confident that you will continue that great work by bringing your resources and expertise to bear in addressing this alarming new trend. Specifically, I hope you will consider launching a comprehensive investigation to explicitly determine whether copying or distributing personal information from smart phones, without a user's consent, constitutes an unfair or deceptive trade practice. In addition, I believe smartphone makers should be required to put in place safety measures to ensure third party applications are not able to violate a user's personal privacy by stealing photographs or data that the user did not consciously decide to make public.


Charles E. Schumer

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