There was a minor controversy in the iOS world last week as it was discovered an application called Path uploaded the entire contents of the user’s Address Book to their servers. I call this a minor controversy because anybody familiar with the iOS Address Book API could have told you this is entirely possible (and hard to avoid because removing these APIs would make it impossible for any application to access Address Book data). Some are angry because Apple’s review process didn’t catch this and others are pointing out the fact that applications should require permission to access the Address Book (of course if the application is supposed to work with the Address Book this becomes an entirely moot point as users will give permission anyways).
What’s more interesting to me is how quickly Congress positioned itself to take credit for the fix Apple was going to present anyways:
The Path debacle just took another turn for the worse with House Energy & Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman and Commerce Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee Chair G.K. Butterfield issuing a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook (via The Next Web). In it, the legislators seek to find out whether Apple is doing enough to protect personal data on users’ iPhones, including their contacts. Specifically, the letter asserts there have been claims that the practice of collecting address book data without users’ consent is “common and accepted among iOS app developers.”
Now when Apple releases their iOS update that requires users to give applications permission to access their Address Book database Congress can point and say, “See! We protected the consumers from Apple’s bad practices! Unless we acted Apple wouldn’t have changed anything!” Of course the truth is Apple would have taken corrective actions whether or not Congress sent a letter or not.
Users were pissed about Path getting through the App Store approval process even though it literally stole the entire contents of the user’s Address Book database. Apple, wanting repeat customers, obviously noticed that angry customers are not good to have so they started working on a fix. This is how the market works: consumers provide feedback to producers and if those producers fail to act on that feedback consumers take their money elsewhere. Members of Congress understand this, which is why they always swoop in to “investigate” anything that has angered consumers (unless the entity that angered consumers gave Congress enough money, then it gets ignored). Those bastards in Washington DC realize the problem will get fixed without their action so making a token “investigation” guarantees free publicity for the next election cycle.
Don’t allow yourself to be fooled by this charlatans. The actions of Congress have no weight on whether or not Apple fixes the problem, consumers do. Congress just tries to exploit these situations to make it appear as though we need them.