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Consumer Watchdog Calls California ‘Apps’ Privacy Agreement A Step Forward, But Says Do Not Track Legislation Is Necessary To Protect Consumers

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Wed, Feb 22, 2012 at 1:46 pm

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Consumer Watchdog Calls California ‘Apps’ Privacy Agreement A Step Forward, But Says Do Not Track Legislation Is Necessary To Protect Consumers

SANTA MONICA, CA – California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ agreement announced today committing the leading operators of mobile application platforms to require privacy policies for applications (“apps”) is a step forward, Consumer Watchdog said, but in addition “Do Not Track” regulations must be implemented to fully protect consumers.

Attorney General Harris negotiated the agreement with six companies whose platforms comprise the majority of the mobile apps market: Amazon, Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Research In Motion. The agreement requires that apps have privacy policies. The majority of them now do not and people have no idea what data is collected about them and how it is used.

“This is an improvement from the current Wild West that is the mobile market,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “But trying to decipher what’s going on through a privacy policy written by lawyers, paid by the word to obfuscate can be extremely frustrating.  It’s even more difficult on small hand-held devices. We need a simple, persistent way to send a message that a user doesn’t want to be tracked. We need Do Not track legislation.”

The California Online Privacy Protection Act requires operators of commercial web sites and online services, including mobile apps, who collect personally identifiable information about Californians to conspicuously post a privacy policy. If developers do not comply with their stated privacy policies, they can be prosecuted under California’s Unfair Competition Law and/or False Advertising Law.

According to the Attorney General, there are more than 50,000 individual developers who have created the mobile apps currently available for download on the leading platforms. There are nearly 600,000 applications for sale in the Apple App Store alone, and another 400,000 for sale in Google’s Android Market. These apps have been downloaded more than 35 billion times.

Harris estimated that a majority of the mobile apps currently available for download through the platforms do not include even the most basic privacy protection: a privacy policy setting forth how personal data is collected, used and shared. One recent study found that only 5 percent of all mobile apps have a privacy policy.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 350 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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