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Al Franken wants Apple and Google to testify about smartphone tracking

Al Franken wants Apple, Google at privacy hearings.
Al Franken wants Apple, Google at privacy hearings.

Sen. Al Franken is wading ever deeper into the controversy over whether smartphones are secretly tracking their user's locations.

As chairman of the Privacy, Technology and the Law Subcommittee, he's calling on Apple and Google representatives to testify at hearings in May.

Researchers caused a storm of controversy last week by publishing a report that shows iPhones and iPads use a computer application to track and store their users' whereabouts for up to a year -- without the users prior permission.

Mapping your every move.
Mapping your every move.

Along with the findings, they released an attention-grabbing mapping application that draws on the data. And another study discovered that Android smartphones do something similar, although in a less robust manner.

Franken put the squeeze on Apple CEO Steve Jobs last week when he caught wind of the reports, publishing an open letter to the company's iconic leader that demanded some answers about what Apple intended to do with the data, and whether it was concerned about invading people's privacy. [Read the letter here.]

In some corners, critics suspect Franken is just playing to the cameras, tilting at windmills, or both. Apple hasn't said a word since the bad PR started, while Google issued a brief statement insisting their tracking application was not a secret. Neither have responded yet to his invitation to the hearings.

But Franken, who has also fought public battles in favor of net neutrality, and against the Comcast/NBC merger, isn't fazed.

"This hearing is the first step in making certain that federal laws protecting consumers' privacy, particularly when it comes to mobile devices, keep pace with advances in technology," he said in a statement.

The larger question is whether anyone cares in a networked world whose participants often seem indifferent to privacy issues at all, even they know what's going on in the first place.

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