Skip to main content

Google and Apple may face another FTC probe over 'harmful' mobile trackers

Google logo with magnifying glass in the background
(Image credit: Jay Bonggolto / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Lawmakers have called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google and Apple's mobile tracking practices.
  • Google and Apple have been accused of enabling tracking IDs by default in their respective operating systems.
  • The tech giants' mobile trackers are viewed as a way for private actors to hunt down women seeking abortion using their location data.

Google and Apple are in hot water anew after lawmakers called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to probe their mobile tacking practices, citing concerns that these identifiers could be used to track down women seeking abortions.

According to The Wall Street Journal (opens in new tab), four Democratic lawmakers have accused the tech giants of paving the way for the collection and sale of user data. This was made possible by the existence of ad-specific identifiers in Android and iOS, the lawmakers stated in a letter to FTC chairperson Lina Khan.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Ron Wyden, and Sara Jacobs wrote that Google and Apple "knowingly facilitated these harmful practices by building advertising-specific tracking IDs into their mobile operating systems."

While both companies have adopted new measures to limit the collection of user data, lawmakers contend that these identifiers still make it easier to trace the location of individual phone owners.

Last year, Apple introduced a new privacy measure as part of iOS 14.5, requiring app developers to obtain permission before collecting a unique identifier on every iOS device. Google also began a phased rollout of its advertising ID late last year in order to limit tracking across Android 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 stated. "Google still enables this tracking identifier by default, and until recently did not even provide consumers with an opt-out."

Google and Apple did not immediately respond to Android Central's request for comment.

The lawmakers raised concern that these mobile trackers have led to the rise of the "unregulated data broker market," which they claim makes it "possible to easily identify a particular consumer in a dataset of ‘anonymous’ location records."

Following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, lawmakers fear that the data broker market and state bounty laws could incentivize private actors to hunt down women seeking abortions.

Jay Bonggolto
Jay Bonggolto

Jay Bonggolto always keeps a nose for news. He has been writing about consumer tech and apps for as long as he can remember, and he has used a variety of Android phones since falling in love with Jelly Bean. Send him a direct message via Twitter or LinkedIn.