Global privacy advocates act to protect mobile apps

Mobile app consumers are unaware about use of their personal data, warns open letter to leading mobile app developers.

Mobile apps need better privacy

Mobile apps need better privacy

More than 20 privacy watchdogs from key countries are calling on mobile app developers to protect consumer information through pre-alerts and better access to privacy policies.

In an open Privacy letter, twenty three international privacy authorities have raised concerns about protecting personal data on mobile devices. Concerns have been raised about insufficient alerts involving the collection of consumer data on smart phones or mobile devices.

This letter has been relayed to key market players such as Google, Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia, Blackberry and Amazon. Privacy advocates are calling on the app industry to make privacy integral to downloads with better built-in alert mechanisms.

Increasingly, consumers use these devices to trawl and access a range of mobile services, says this open letter. But they may be unaware about the broader use of their personal information to trawl through or access goods or services.

Better checks needed

Better checks and alerts are needed, note international privacy advocates. This enables consumers to make informed decisions about the use of their personal data. Among the checks, advocates want to make it mandatory for mobile app developers to post links to privacy policies as a prelude to collecting consumer information.

Steps are needed to ensure that citizens are comfortable with access to their personal information. Many consumers are often unaware about how their data is collected, used or shared by service providers or information brokers.

Without a proper alert or links to privacy policies, consumers may find it difficult to make informed choices or offer meaningful consent involving the use of their personal data.

Global sweep identifies gaps

The latest alert follows on from an annual Global Privacy Enforcement Network Privacy Sweep led by a coalition of organisations.This sweep galvanised 26 privacy enforcement authorities from around the world.

The sweep offered insights into the types of permissions sought by more than 1,200 of the world’s most popular apps and the extent to which consumers were informed about each app’s privacy practices.

Of concern, there were many instances of apps that appeared to collect personal information but did not have a privacy policy or other up-front privacy management details. This gap affects the ability of people to make informed choices about how their data is collected.

“While, by our observation, most marketplaces allow app developers to include a link to a privacy policy, this did not appear to be a mandatory practice.” Increasingly, in an online or mobile environment, app developers need to communicate their privacy practices or the state of mobile operating systems.

“Developers and other app marketplace operators play a unique and integral role in users’ interactions with apps, made available through their various app stores and app marketplaces.” The app marketplace is an important consumer “landing spot” where people search for new apps, read reviews, and access technical information about a particular app before downloading this resource.

“Like any marketplace, there is an expectation that consumer protection issues will be addressed in a positive and privacy friendly manner.”

Current global privacy policies are not consistent, note privacy watchdog bodies. “While privacy policy links sometimes appear in the app marketplace listings, we observed during the sweep that this practice is not consistently applied.”

Given the broad range and potential sensitivity of the data stored in mobile devices, better links and alerts are needed around privacy policies. Data is often collected in and through mobile devices across an app marketplace store. Privacy policy links can be factored in, offering a simple and convenient way to alert consumers.

An app marketplace operator needs to be a “responsible corporate citizen,” the open letter says. “They must make the basic commitment to require each app that can access or collect personal information, to provide users with timely access to the app’s privacy policy.”

The latest letter has been signed by officials from Canada, Australia, Germany, Belgium, Finland, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Italy, China, Holland, New Zealand, Norway and Korea, among other countries. The Australian representation is led by the federal privacy commissioner Timothy Pilgrim.

Follow Shahida Sweeney on Twitter: @ShahidaSweeney

Tags amazonMicrosoftGlobal Privacy Enforcement Network Privacy SweepNokiaPrivacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrimprivacymobile appsBlackberryApplesamsungGoogle

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