Android, iPhone subject to FTC photo privacy probe

High-profile Senator Charles Schumer has called on the FTC to conduct a probe into privacy concerns on the iPhone and Android.

Schumer, a Democrat from New York, is citing allegations that apps on both platforms are taking private pictures and contact information from users without informing them or getting user consent.

The Senator was persuaded to act after he saw a New York Times report that showed how an iPhone app could gain access to a user’s entire photo collection and post it online without the user ever knowing. That report is available online here.

In addition, both the iPhone and Android platforms can download and store entire user contact information without consent. This means that even if you have a landline phone and have never downloaded a single app, if an iPhone or Android user has your number in their contact list and they download an app, your number could be uploaded to numerous servers.

An example of this came to light when it was revealed that the official Twitter iPhone app could automatically scan and store contact lists. This activity was never explicitly stated in the app’s terms and conditions, though it was probably legally safe thanks to a catch-all statement about user privacy.

“These uses go well beyond what a reasonable user understands himself to be consenting to when he allows an app to access data on the phone for purposes of the app’s functionality,” said Schumer in a statement to the FTC.

He also called on mobile companies “to put in place safety measures to ensure third party applications are not able to violate a user’s personal privacy by stealing photographs or data that the user did not consciously decide to make public.”