Social app makers face inquiry over user data transfer practices

The scrutiny prompted at least one company, Path, to add privacy features to its mobile app. Path was the first of the social app companies to receive (unwanted?) attention from Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C) about apps sending user’s information from Apple mobile devices to a remote server for future use.

At first, Apple was the target of the lawmakers’ inquiry but that expanded to include 34 social app developers for Apple devices. The lawmakers sent letters to the app developers seeking information about their data collection and use practices.

Bryan Trussel, the chief executive officer (CEO) of location-based social app company Glympse (not a target of the lawmakers' inquiry), said that the question is not whether data are collected by the app developers but what safeguards are in place.

“At one end of the spectrum, there are data that consumers want you to collect because they want you to provide a service and improve the service quality. At the other end, there are data that they don’t know you are collecting and don’t want you to collect”, Trussel told Infosecurity.

Congress is focusing on the data that consumers don’t know are being collected and would not approve, while the app developers are focusing on “all the cool things they can do” if they can collect consumer data, Trussel noted.

The Glympse CEO said that location information is the “flashpoint” for this debate. “It is a very personal piece of data for people. They can translate it cleanly into, ‘Wow, there is a database in the sky that can tell people where I am or where I’ve been.' They know what that means.”

At the same time, consumers want the convenience of being able to find nearby movies or restaurants, which requires location-based information, he related.

“I hate to have people paint the issue with a broad brush as if there is a simple solution to this. The real solution is fairly obvious at the philosophical level: Don’t abuse users’ data, don’t abuse their trust, and don’t mislead them. If everybody could abide by that, we would probably be better off”, Trussel observed.

What’s Hot on Infosecurity Magazine?