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Path's Misstep Prompts Apple Probe

Wed, 02/15/2012 - 7:10am
Andrew Berg

User privacy and the security of electronic data continues to be of concern in Washington, D.C. Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Rep. Henry Waxman and Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee ranking member Rep. G. K. Butterfield sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook regarding recent reports that the social networking app Path accessed and collected address book information from consumers without their consent. 

Waxman and Butterfield contend "there have been claims made that the practice of collecting consumers' address book contacts without their permission is common and accepted among iOS app developers," which the pair says raises questions of whether Apple's iOS app developer policies and practices adequately protect consumer privacy.

The letter acknowledges a blog post by Path CEO Dave Morin that apologized for accessing and storing user contact information without consent. Morin also promised to delete all saved contact information from Path's servers.

Waxman and Butterfield cite the data management section of Apple's iOS developer website, which states: "iOS has a comprehensive collection of tools and frameworks for storing, accessing, and sharing data. . . . iOS apps even have access to a device's global data such as contacts in the Address Book, and photos in the Photo Library." But the pair also note that Apple's App Store developer guidelines state that an app must ask permission before accessing a user's information.

The letter references a blog by Dustin Curtis entitled "Stealing Your Address Book," which states that "there's a quiet understanding among many iOS app developers that it is acceptable to send a user's entire address book, without their permission, to remote servers and then store it for future reference. It's common practice, and many companies likely have your address book stored in their database." 

Attempts to access Curtis' blog, as well as the post "Stealing Your Address Book," were unsuccessful and links to the blog through other websites appeared to have been deactivated.

While the letter is addressed to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Path CEO Dave Morin was cc'd on the exchange. Waxman and Butterfield have asked Apple to respond to 10 questions no later than Feb. 29.

Apple could not be reached for comment on the matter.

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