- Apple last week revised its App Store rules to restrict how software developers use information about the friends and contacts of iPhone owners, closing a loophole that let apps store and share data without the informed consent of many people, per Bloomberg.
- The rule change limits a common practice among app developers that had been allowed for years. After people install an app on an iPhone or iPad, they often would see a request to access their phone contacts to use for marketing, and to share or sell the information without getting consent from those people.
- IPhone contact lists frequently have phone numbers and email addresses of friends and family, and may even include the profile photos of those people. Developers get dozens of data points about people after users install apps and then consent to provide access that's beyond Apple's control. Developers that get caught breaking the rules may be banned from the App Store.
In the latest indication that Apple as well as the broader digital space is taking a tougher stance on data sharing in the wake of Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal. How far these tech companies are willing to go to protect consumer data remains to be seen as some of the necessary steps are likely to get in the way of revenue generations.
Apple is cracking down on a data-sharing practice that has been very common among app developers, but has gotten companies like Facebook into trouble. Some app users may feel comfortable sharing their personal data with app developers but others don't like the idea that their friends are sharing the information without consent. Facebook's recent Cambridge Analytica scandal highlighted how some app developers may be working with government agencies, political parties or shadowy intelligence organizations.
Apple this year criticized Facebook for its lax privacy protections, but last week didn't mention the App Store's new restrictions on data sharing during its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. Instead, the company highlighted controls in its iOS 12 mobile operating system that will limit the tracking of web browsing. The new rule about data gathering likely limits the ability of app developers to make additional money by selling the information to advertisers or list brokers. Apple also doesn't allow developers to get contact lists under false pretenses, such as saying the data will be used in one way, but then are used for something else — unless the developer gets additional consent.
Apple's new rules may limit or hurt a key app owned by Facebook called Onavo Protect, per Bloomberg. Onavo Protect gathers information about users' devices, their location, apps installed on the gadgets and how people use those apps, what websites they visit, and the amount of data used to help it develop new features, Facebook disclosed. Onavo collects data about other apps through networks rather than through devices, sidestepping Apple's measures to prevent apps from getting information about apps. It remains to be seen whether Onavo Project will be banned from the App Store.