Mobile app stores to require, disclose privacy policies

California's attorney general announced guidelines developed with major companies to make privacy policies readily available to mobile users

Apple, Google and other mobile platform providers will present privacy policies for all the apps offered in their stores as part of an agreement with the state of California.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced an agreement developed with mobile platform companies including Apple, Google, Research In Motion, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, to ensure that all mobile apps will offer privacy policies that users can read before downloading the app.

Although the plan technically only applies to apps in use in California, it will affect the global marketplace by making privacy policies visible to all users who download apps through the Android Marketplace, the App Store or any of the other platforms hosted by the participating companies.

Just 5 percent of all mobile applications offer a privacy policy, according to a study conducted by TrustE and Harris Interactive. (A developer survey conducted by the Future of Privacy Foundation found that one-third of apps offer such policies.) Even those that do have such policies often make the information available to users only after they have downloaded the app, which is when most programs grab data from the user's phone.

At a press conference in San Francisco announcing the agreement, Harris explained that it had previously been somewhat unclear to developers and platform providers whether the California Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires any "web site or online service that collects personally identifiable information through the Internet" to "conspicuously post its privacy policy," applied to mobile apps.

"There's been a question," Harris said, and "we have resolved that." Harris added that developers should be "on notice" that the state was prepared to enforce the newly clarified law, effective immediately, against both developers and platform providers that fail to comply.

"We take a great deal of pride in the technology that was born in our backyard," Harris said. "There's no desire on any of our parts to slow down what's potentially life-changing and world-changing technology. But we also shouldn't have to accept false choices" between privacy and access to innovation.

In a statement, Jules Polonetsky, director of the Future of Privacy Forum, agreed. "Apps can only provide innovative services to consumers if they use personal information responsibly," Polonetsky wrote. If they surprise consumers, he said, "they risk losing access to user data. The California agreement will ensure that consumers are protected and that the app environment continues to flourish."

The policy is, in some ways, symbolic. It will not limit what apps can grab from smartphones, which can include device ID numbers, email addresses, location, personal contacts and calendar entries. It simply requires apps to inform consumers, who, in fact, may not read such notices. Several privacy advocates and experts contacted by IDG News Service agreed that full resolution of the mobile privacy issue will have to include buy-in from platform operators and app developers, consumer education and potentially regulation.

The attorney general's announcement comes amid privacy controversies involving the social networking app Path, which is based in San Francisco, and Google, which was discovered by a Stanford graduate student to be tracking users' browser habits on the iPhone despite Safari's no-tracking default settings. Talks with the platform companies began in August of last year.

Asked how her office came to focus on mobile privacy, Harris said, "We all use apps." California also has "very tough rules against invasion of privacy," she said, "and those protections apply not only to intrusions by government but also by corporations."

Harris twice declined to comment on her office's position on Google's iPhone tracking.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

More about Amazon Web ServicesAppleGoogleHarris InteractiveHewlett-Packard AustraliaIDGMicrosoftMotionPrivacy FoundationResearch In Motion

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Cameron Scott

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place