Three U.S. Senators and one U.S. Representative sent a letter to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) chair Lina Khan today. Not just to check in and see how Khan is doing. Nope. They say the FTC should “investigate Apple and Google’s role in transforming online advertising into an intense system of surveillance,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
Apple and Google “knowingly facilitated harmful practices by building advertising-specific tracking IDs into their mobile operating systems,” says the letter, which was signed by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon, 73), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts, 73), and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey, 53), as well as U.S. Representative Sara Jacobs (D-California, 33).
(Sounds like two of the four legislators probably use a flip phone. I’ll let you decide which two I’m thinking of.)
The legislators included Apple in the request, even though the Cupertino firm has required app developers to ask for permission before tracking a user’s activity across other companies’ apps and websites, as part of a feature named App Tracking Transparency before accessing the device’s Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), which was initiated in iOS 14.5. (Previously, access to the IDFA was enabled by default.)
As noted by The WSJ, both companies have recently taken steps to limit the collection of user data through these mobile-ad identifiers. Users of both operating systems now have a way to opt-out of having their identifier transmitted to apps.
“Until recently, however, Apple enabled this tracking ID by default and required consumers to dig through confusing phone settings to turn it off,” the letter reportedly said, adding that “these identifiers have fueled the unregulated data broker market.”
So, it isn’t exactly clear what the senators have in mind, or what changes might come about in the iPhone maker’s current policies. Apple and Google haven’t as yet commented on the letter.