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Congressman demands answers from Google about Play Store and Wallet privacy concerns

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Rep. Hank Johnson and Sen. Al Franken
Rep. Hank Johnson and Sen. Al Franken

Google's Play Store and Google Wallet are the latest targets for US legislators worried about consumer privacy. On Thursday, Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) posted an open letter on his website that he sent to Google CEO Larry Page, demanding Page or someone at Google respond to four requests he has about Google's online store and digital payments system by February 28th. Johnson specifically said he was concerned about Google sharing user account billing information with third-party software developers, citing recent complaints of an Australian app developer who claimed Google was sending him customers' account names, email addresses, and locations without letting them know.

"Please clarify the scope and nature of information sharing so that I may better understand consumers' expectations and protections when purchasing apps through Google Play," Johnson's letter reads, launching into the four requests, one of which is "Please discuss the types of information shared with developers through Google Wallet."

"Please clarify the scope and nature of information sharing."

Google already issued a quick response to the letter to The Verge, with a spokesperson saying: "Google Wallet shares the information needed to process transactions and maintain accounts, and this is clearly stated in the Google Wallet Privacy Notice. We look forward to working with Rep. Johnson and his staff to answer any questions."

Johnson's letter is the latest in a series of increasingly frequent attempts by Congress to grill Google and the tech sector more generally over consumer privacy. After Google consolidated its privacy policies for different products under the umbrella of a larger policy in March last year, several lawmakers sent a letter similar to Johnson's demanding the company explain the changes to them more thoroughly. Outside of Google, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) recently asked Instagram for answers about its privacy policy changes, the Senate held a hearing on mobile privacy in 2011 and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) late last year introduced legislation in response to mobile analytics firm Carrier IQ's clumsy response to privacy concerns months before. Given these prior examples, we won't be surprised to see more letters from Congress asking companies about their consumer privacy practices in the near future.