App developers face potential fines over lack of privacy policies
By Chantal Tode
November 2, 2012
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“This news shouldn’t be a surprise for app developers,” said Jules Polonetsky, director and co-chair of the Future of Privacy Forum, Washington. “The California attorney general has been very clear that the state law requiring privacy policies applies to app developers and not just Web sites.
“Clearly their goal isn’t to run around fining people, but rather to get these folks into compliance with the law,” he said.
Privacy made easy
If some app developers do not begin putting more of a focus on privacy, they could end up paying dearly. For example, companies can face fines of up to $2,500 each time a non-compliant app is downloaded under the California Online Privacy Protection Act.
The mobile apps sector — which is quickly growing — has had little regulation so far. However, it faces growing scrutiny from legislators and privacy advocates who are concerned after a series of revelations indicated that some apps are uploading user contact names and otherwise accessing user information, often without permission.
App developers have complained in the past that it was not easy to place privacy policies in their apps because of some of the restrictions and guidelines in place from app stores such as the Apple App Store and Google Play.
IOS 6 includes a privacy tab for developers
However, the situation is being addressed.
In the latest version of iOS from Apple, there is a special tab that app developers can use in their apps specifically for their privacy policies.
Putting privacy on radar
In general, app developers have been moving in the direction of putting privacy policies in place.
Reports suggest United and Delta airlines are among the high-profile companies that do not have app privacy policies in place.
A study conducted by the Future of Privacy Forum found that 61 percent of apps have privacy policies. For Android and iOS apps, the number jumps up to 80 percent.
“It is clear that some very prominent apps continue to not have policies that are conspicuous,” Mr. Polonetsky said.
“Even some of the major companies, who have privacy policies and lawyers, haven’t paid attention to what they uniquely need to do when they post an app,” he said.
“The mistake they make is to simply point to their Web site policy. “When even the big actors haven’t focused on this, it needs some escalation to get on their radar.”
Additionally, mobile apps may be accessing a user’s location, contacts and other information they should be aware is being accessed.
“As people update apps for iOS 6, they can now provide an easy link to their policy,” Mr. Polonetsky said. “There is really no excuse anymore.”
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York
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