Mobile App Providers Agree to California Privacy Demands
by Leslie Meredith, TechNewsDaily Senior Writer
February 23 2012 06:32 PM ET
California's Attorney General Kamala Harris
CREDIT: California Department of Justice
"Warning: this app could be hazardous to your privacy!" Such a message won't go far enough for California. The state's attorney general has asked mobile app providers to tell would-be downloaders exactly what personal data an app would access and how the information would be used.
Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Research in Motion (maker of BlackBerry phones) and Hewlett Packard have agreed. Details of what would be required have not been disclosed, but are likely to follow the permissions sought by most Facebook apps that tell users when their friends lists and other personal information will be accessed by the app.
The state already mandates policies for Internet companies under its 2004 Online Privacy Protection Act, but the law does not explicitly cover mobile apps, which were virtually nonexistent eight years ago.
While there is no clear timeline to begin enforcement, the six companies will meet with Kamala Harris, California's attorney general, in six months to report on their progress. Harris said the state "can sue and will sue" if developers continue to publish apps without privacy alerts, under existing consumer protection laws. Currently, 22 of the 30 most downloaded apps do not have privacy notices, she said.
Consumer Watchdog says that while California's mobile app policy is an improvement, it does not go far enough. The privacy advocate has called for "Do Not Track" legislation that would give consumers an easy way to opt-out of all online tracking. Websites install cookies (small bits of code) when people visit their sites that tell them where people go online. The information is used to deliver customized ads.
The White House has stepped in to help solve the problem. Today (Feb. 23) President Barack Obama unveiled a bill of rights to increase online privacy protection. Like California's, the plan calls for voluntary participation from technology companies. It includes a "Do Not Track" initiative proposed by the FTC in 2010.