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California AG Harris Urges Mobile App Privacy
Law Technology News
Note: This story has been updated with information about BitDefender. -EK
New privacy guidelines are available to help mobile application developers protect their customers, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said Thursday.
In a free report, "Privacy on the Go: Recommendations for the Mobile Ecosystem", Harris' team outlines the minimum steps that developers can take to comply with California online privacy laws and to help customers protect their data. The report follows other announcements from Harris, in 2012, that notable companies Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Google Inc., Facebook Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Microsoft Corp., and Research In Motion Ltd. pledged to follow privacy guidelines.
Among the recommendations, the report states that developers should ensure that privacy policies are easily found before apps are installed; lean toward only requiring personal information that is absolutely necessary; never share a user's data without prominently informing them; and do not keep data longer than it's effectively needed to run the application. The recommendations are equally important for advertisers, device makers, and phone network companies, the report notes.
The public report is just the latest step in a mobile privacy crackdown by Harris. She announced in October that companies have been notified if their mobile applications do not comply with California privacy laws. Harris then sued Delta Airlines Inc. in December. "Losing your personal privacy should not be the cost of using mobile apps, but all too often it is, said said at the time. California law is clear that mobile apps collecting personal information need privacy policies, and that the users of those apps deserve to know what is being done with their personal information."
Missing from Harris' arsenal is directory of smartphone and tablet applications that sufficiently protect the privacy of users. Representatives from her office were not available to comment Friday.
Mobile application privacy is also being discussed on the federal level. The Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications & Information Administration has a hearing planned in Washington, D.C., on Jan 17, while the Federal Trade Commission issued a report about privacy in mobile applications for children in December.
A website called WhatApp? made by the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society launched in 2010 to let users post and check an application's privacy and security status, but the site is no longer working. The website indicates that "WhatApp? has been taken down and we're currently working on an even better version." Stanford is currently transitioning the project to Charles Belle, executive director of the privacy and technology project at the University of California - Hastings. Belle said he team is evaluating the future of WhatApp? and is not yet ready to say how or when it will re-launch.
Separately, a company called MobileScope is developing a website that tells users what personal information their devices and applications are receiving and sharing, while Security vendor BitDefender has an iPhone app called Clueful for the same purpose.