Dems Launch Privacy Probe of Social Networking Apps

Facebook, Twitter, Apple among those scrutinized

Address-gate is just getting started in Washington. Two leading Democrats launched an inquiry Thursday into the data collection practices of social apps for Apple devices, a big privacy issue that flared up last month when it was discovered that some mobile apps were collecting users address books and accessing photos without permission and in violation of Apple's guidelines.

The lawmakers launching the probe are Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade. They intend to build a record of the privacy and security practices in the app marketplace as the subcommittee continues to hold a series of privacy hearings.

The 34 companies that received the letter include Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Foursquare. All are listed in the "social networking" subcategory in the iPhone essentials area of Apple's App Store. They have until April 12 to answer nine questions detailing the companies' privacy policies, data collection and sharing practices.

The pair of lawmakers began looking into the privacy and data collection of social apps with a letter to Apple when the news broke in February that social networking app Path had been accessing consumers address books without permission.

Lawmakers also asked the companies to list membership to any industry self-regulatory organizations. The Mobile Marketing Association's guidelines specifically require social networking platforms to obtain prior consent from the user before pulling contact information, friend lists, log-in information, photos or check-ins.

"Congressmen Waxman and Butterfield are right to ask these questions," said Greg Stuart, CEO of MMA. "Apps developers and sellers should realize that it's time to adopt privacy policies that provide apps customers with transparency, notice and choice."