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Apple's consumer privacy practices in the government's crosshairs

As U.S. federal agencies put tech giants’ data security practices under the microscope, consumer privacy issues are on everybody’s minds. Also in privacy news: Two U.S. business alliances are pushing for greater data management transparency, and a new study shows that Americans remain suspicious of online services and government spying.

FBI publicly censures Apple’s impenetrable encryption technology

Various government and law enforcement agencies are up in arms regarding new device encryption measures put in place by big technology firms. In September, Apple announced that new iPhone software would prevent anyone other than its user — including police armed with a court order — to access data on the phone. Shortly thereafter, Google disclosed that it would implement similar encryption technology on its devices that use the new Android OS.

The FBI met with Apple representatives about the issue Oct. 1, during which Deputy Attorney General James Cole warned that a child could die because the encryption tools would prevent law enforcement from looking inside a criminal’s phone for pertinent information. Apple’s representatives responded that the company is protecting the rights of consumers who are storing more personal data on their devices and losing trust in how technology companies store their information.

FBI Director James Comey also spoke out publicly against the new encryption measures, saying that Apple and Google have swung the “post-Snowden pendulum” too far in favor of protecting consumer privacy. The Obama administration said it plans to continue discussing these issues with the technology companies.

FTC in talks with Apple to confirm health data security

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is another U.S. agency with its eye on Apple’s handling of consumer data, particularly with regard to its Apple Watch and the HealthKit platform and the security and privacy of the health data they collect.

Reuters reported that there are no hints that the FTC plans to launch a formal investigation, but the agency has recently focused on the privacy safeguards for increasingly popular mobile health applications. Apple’s HealthKit offers consumers control over their health data and was designed with privacy in mind, Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller told Reuters. In August, Apple also toughened its privacy policies so that developers cannot use the information collected by HealthKit for data-mining purposes.

Two coalitions publicly encourage user transparency in data practices

Two composite organizations are taking steps toward addressing consumers’ waning trust in data security as breaches grow larger in scale. Earlier this month, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents manufacturers such as Chrysler, Ford Motors, General Motors and Toyota, pledged more transparency into their data management and security practices. The American Farm Bureau has also addressed concerns regarding how agriculture technology providers use the data collected by their services.

While Fortune‘s Heather Clancy wrote that these statements are a step in the right direction, she also argues that businesses need to take privacy further. She cited a Forrester report that predicts the number of executives that view their security strategy as a competitive differentiator will grow next year.

Pew Research unearths pervasive distrust among U.S. consumers

A recent Pew Research Center study reflects a widespread belief among U.S. consumers that they’re losing control of their personal information. According to the study, which surveyed 607 American adults, 91% reported they “agree” or “strongly agree” that they have lost control of how their information is being collected and used by companies. Furthermore, 88% agree or strongly agree that it would be very challenging to remove inaccurate data about them online.

Seventy percent expressed concern about how the government accesses their data, and 80% agreed or strongly agreed that Americans should be concerned about how the government monitors their phone and Internet communications.

The study also found that 80% of those who use social networking sites are concerned about how third parties such as advertisers are using the information they share on those sites. Social media sites garnered the most distrust, with 81% of respondents stating that they are “not very” or “not at all secure” when using the sites to share personal data with other people or organizations. However, 55% of respondents said they were willing to share some of their data in exchange for the use of free online services.

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