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Why Google and Apple are accused of mass surveillance

Google and Apple are in the sights of four US senators. They believe the two tech giants have set up a mass surveillance system. This system would pose an immense danger to privacy.

Four Democratic senators asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of the United States to open an investigation into Apple and Google, reports the Wall Street Journal. In the letter addressed to the organization in charge of the control of the anticompetitive commercial practices, the senators estimate that the two companies have facilitated the collection of personal data Android and iOS users.

In “embedding advertising-specific tracking identifiers into their mobile operating systems”, Apple and Google knowingly facilitated the sale of private data. Until recently, the two Silicon Valley giants did not allow users to escape ad tracking from apps and websites.

Also Read: This New Apple Ad Illustrates What Happens When You Allow Ad Tracking

A danger to privacy

According to the Democrats, this practice endangers the privacy of Internet users. Indeed, the digital identifier, designed to trace the course of an Internet user on the web, makes it possible to “create links to other consumer data”. Very important for brands, it allows better calibrate online ads and inform advertisers about the real impact of their ads.

Although these identifiers are anonymous, they allow easily trace back to the identity of a user, say the senators. Advertising identifiers can be “easily traced back to the people who own the smartphones associated with them.” Ultimately, these identifiers are a risk for the anonymity of users.

Democrats point to a concrete case where data can represent a danger for Internet users. Representatives fear that information collected through the smartphone, such as location, could be used against women who choose to have an abortion.

“Prosecutors in states where abortion becomes illegal will soon be able to obtain warrants for the whereabouts of anyone who has visited an abortion clinic. Private actors will also be encouraged by state bounty laws to stalk women”warns the letter, believing that Apple and Google have developed a ” Surveillance system ” Americans.

Following a controversial decision by the United States Supreme Court, thirteen states will legislate and ban abortion on their territory. In this context, several organizations have recommended that American women uninstall menstrual tracking apps from their smartphones.

Apple and Google measures

Aware of the dangers of advertising tracking, Apple and Google have already taken action to protect their users. With the iOS 14.5 update, Apple introduced App Tracking Transparency. This option requires iOS apps that want to collect user data to obtain their explicit consent. Users are invited to give their consent or to refuse access to the data by means of a pop-up window.

In this case, ad tracking is not enabled by default. In their letter, the Democratic senators also recognize between the lines efforts made by Apple.

“Until recently, however, Apple enabled this tracking ID by default and required consumers to dig into confusing phone settings to disable it. Google still enables this tracking ID by default and until recently didn’t even provide consumers with a way to turn it off”underline the senators.

On his side, Google continues to enable tracking by default.. To disable it, the user must go to the Android settings. The firm denies having created the advertising identifier to facilitate “selling data” reports the Wall Street Journal.

Additionally, Google is committed to introducing new privacy options on Android. Visibly inspired by Apple, the Mountain View group has announced a new system dedicated to protecting user privacy, Privacy Sandbox. This new advertising targeting method will prevent advertisers from being able to determine the identity of an Internet user. It should be integrated into a future beta version of the Android 13 update.

Source :

Wall Street Journal

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