Apple, Google Join California to Boost Mobile App Privacy

Apple, Google Join California to Boost Mobile App Privacy
Shoppers Andres Moran, left, and Mckiernan Flaherty browse Apple Inc. iPhone 4S smartphones at a store in San Francisco, California, U.S. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Apple Inc. and Google Inc. are among six technology companies offering platforms for mobile applications that agreed to a privacy protocol to protect consumers, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said.

Microsoft Corp., Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Research In Motion Ltd. also joined the accord with Harris, who said today she’s trying to bring the industry in line with a California law requiring mobile apps that collect personal information to have a privacy policy.

“Smart phones are everywhere and are rich in data,” Harris said at a press conference in San Francisco. “There are apps that once downloaded by the consumer, will also download the consumer’s contact book. I’d suggest most consumers don’t know that’s happening and don’t want it happening.”

The attorney general said in a statement that the agreement with the platform companies is designed to ensure that mobile apps comply with the California Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires operators of online services to “conspicuously post a privacy policy.”

The agreement will allow users of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices to review an app’s privacy policy before they download the app, according to Harris’s statement. If app developers don’t comply, they can be prosecuted under consumer protection laws, she said.

‘More Transparency’

“By ensuring that mobile apps have privacy policies, we create more transparency and give mobile users more informed control over who accesses their personal information,” Harris said in the statement.

The agreement allows customers to review privacy policies for apps before they download it rather than after, and it requires the companies to disclose to consumers what information they collect, how they use it and who it is shared with, according to the statement.

In six months, the companies will meet with Harris to “assess privacy” in mobile networks, she said in the statement. The $6.8 billion market for mobile applications is expected to grow to $25 billion within four years, according to the statement.

Google, based in Mountain View, California, said in a statement that its Android software for mobile phones already has “an industry-leading permissions system which informs consumers what data an app can access and requires user approval before installation.”

‘Informed Decisions’

“Coupled with the principles announced by the attorney general, which we expect to complete in the coming weeks, consumers will have even more ways to make informed decisions when it comes to their privacy,” the company said.

Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, said it supports Harris’s work on privacy.

“Microsoft is committed to being a leader in consumer privacy across all of our products and services, and our approach is aligned with these principles,” Mary Murray, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Tom Neumayr, a spokesman for Cupertino, California-based Apple, confirmed the company is part of the agreement without commenting further.

RIM, based in Waterloo, Ontario, said in an e-mailed statement that protecting customer privacy is a “key priority,” and that it will work with Harris and software developers to “bring greater user awareness of their privacy policies and practices.”

Michael Thacker, a spokesman for Palo Alto, California-based H-P, didn’t have an immediate response to a request for comment on today’s announcement. Mary Osako, a spokeswoman for Seattle-based Amazon, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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