By: Tony Romm
The Senate's top consumer protection panel Thursday opened its hearing on mobile phone privacy with a grand indictment that top tech companies need to do better in handling consumers' personal information.
With the possibility of regulation looming, Chairman Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) opened the session by lamenting that the nascent and fast-evolving mobile marketplace lacks "basic parameters and best practices," particularly governing the many third-party games and other apps that run on iPhones, Android devices and other leading gadgets.
Pryor added that it is "not clear Americans who own smartphones understand how their information may be used, downloaded or transferred."
Other Democrats underscored the call for legislation.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who has introduced his own comprehensive privacy proposal, took aim at witnesses from Apple, Google and Facebook testifying on Thursday. To Kerry, those companies have contributed vast innovation, while stressing to regulators: "Washington, leave us alone."
"But we are in a different place today," Kerry continued. He said that companies like Google, Apple and Facebook need to join companies that have "already come down on the side of common sense, very restrained, simple privacy protections." The companies he listed included Intel, eBay, Microsoft and HP -- all of which have endorsed Kerry's privacy bill.
Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, meanwhile, stressed that consumer "expectations of privacy" on their smartphones are "not being met." He touted his recent bill that would allow consumers to opt out of online tracking.
Yet Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), the new consumer protection panel ranking member, urged lawmakers to proceed with caution. He stressed in his opening statement that as a "general matter, I prefer to see the industry self-regulate."
"So before Congress takes action," Toomey urged, it must "find the right balance."