House Republicans seek answers from Apple and Alphabet on privacy issues

Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Greg Walden

The Republican leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters on Monday to Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple (AAPL), and Larry Page, the CEO of Google's parent company, Alphabet, requesting details about their smartphone data collection practices. "Recent reports have indicated that consumer data gathered through cell phones, including location information and recordings of users, may be used in ways that consumers do not expect". The scanning is usually done by computers.

Lawmakers have also asked Apple about its collaboration with a company named RapidSOS to provide better location services for 911 calls and if RapidSOS will be sharing and retaining any data.

The questions come roughly three months after Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by members of the same House committee over the company's data collection practices. They're demanding to know whether iPhones and Android handsets can secretly record audio conversations, without the owner's consent.

Lawmakers also asked about the companies' roles in policing how app makers collect and share information taken from smartphones. The software is technically always listening, usually for a special trigger phrase such as "Okay Google or "Hey Siri".

Google still permitted third parties to access the contents of users' emails, including message text, email signatures, and receipt data, to personalize content.

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"Furthermore, though no allegations of misuse of personal email data akin to the Cambridge Analytica case have surfaced, the reported lack of oversight from Google to ensure that Gmail data is properly safeguarded is cause for concern". This includes when devices are in "airplane mode" or have removed the SIM card - the small chip in cellphones that tie a phone to a particular person's plan.

Previously, Apple has said that it uses tools like Global Positioning System and bluetooth to determine a device owner's location if a user has enabled that functionality.

In the letters to Google and Apple, lawmakers said the committee is "reviewing the business practices that may impact the privacy expectations of Americans". "We look forward to answering the Committee's questions", a spokesperson for Google said in a statement provided to CNNMoney.

Apple declined to comment for this story, while a spokeswoman for Google did not immediately respond to questions. The letters were signed by Greg Walden of Oregon, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Gregg Harper of MS, and Bob Latta of Ohio.

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