Ina Fried

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Required Reading: What to Know Ahead of Today’s Apple/Google Hearing

A busy tech week on Capitol Hill kicks off later Tuesday as a Senate subcommittee looks into issues related to location-based data, privacy and mobile devices, with both Google and Apple set to testify.

The hearings are a response to a sudden spike in concern about the issue following revelations that the iPhone was storing a great deal of location information and over just how much location information Apple and Google are collecting and for what purposes.

To help get people ready for the hearings, Mobilized has pulled together some recent and not so recent comments on the matter that help frame the issues. (Of course, All Things D will be updating things from D.C. as well. As I’ll be at Google I/O, colleague Arik Hessedahl will be monitoring the hearings; the proceedings will also be Webcast.)

Now, on to your required readings.

First off, here’s a summary of who will be speaking on Tuesday. The biggest names are Apple and Google. Apple’s representative is Bud Tribble, a VP of software technology. Though far from a household name, Tribble is notable as one of the members of the original Mac development team and worked at NeXT and Sun Microsystems, before eventually rejoining Steve Jobs at Apple. Google will be represented by Alan Davidson, a director of public policy. Also set to appear are a few policy groups and representatives of the FTC and DOJ.

So what will Apple and Google have to say for themselves?

Well, Apple’s most detailed comments on the location and privacy issue came a couple of weeks ago in a statement it released and from an interview Steve Jobs and top executives did with Mobilized. The most clear point Apple has sought to get across is that it is not, and has no intention of, tracking individual iPhones or users.

“We haven’t been tracking anybody’s location,” Jobs said in the interview. Apple also lets users turn on and off location services for each application, including Apple’s own apps and provides iPhone owners a way to see which programs have recently been using such information. Although Apple said it is not collecting personal information, it did say it used the collective location data to build a crowdsourced database of cellphone and Wi-Fi signals and that the company is building a traffic database. Jobs also declined to say if Apple was working on any other services that tap into collective data. Apple has also since updated the iPhone operating system to reduce the amount of location information stored on its devices.

Google, for its part, hasn’t had too much new to say on the matter since commenting to Mobilized on April 22.

“All location sharing on Android is opt-in by the user,” Google said in that statement. “We provide users with notice and control over the collection, sharing and use of location in order to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices. Any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user.”

Potentially even more interesting than recent comments, however, are comments that Jobs and Google executives have made in the past. The leaders of both companies addressed the issue last year, with Jobs speaking at our D8 conference and Google’s Andy Rubin speaking at D: Dive Into Mobile. We’ve cut a special highlight reel together with both executives’ relevant comments.

As for what to watch for at the hearings on Tuesday, there are a lot of questions that have yet to be answered by Google, Apple and others in the industry. One of those is what the companies are committing to doing or not doing with people’s information, both individually and collectively. Both companies’ privacy policies give them wide latitude with how to use location-based information once a user opts to receive location-based services. The key is what limits the companies are willing to impose on themselves–and any that the assembled lawmakers may be interested in adding.

And don’t forget, Tuesday is just the start of a tech-filled week in Congress. On Wednesday, a different Senate subcommittee will take a look at AT&T’s proposed $39 billion deal to acquire T-Mobile USA.