Microsoft, Apple, Google Pledge Transparency on Privacy Policies

Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Google, Research In Motion and Hewlett-Packard this week formally agreed to require transparency from app developers regarding their products' privacy policies.

The agreement, drafted by California Attorney General Kamala D. Harri, mandates that mobile apps must provide detailed information on what personal data will be collected and how that data will be used before the apps are downloaded. It also will allow consumers to report applications found in online app markets that do not comply with the privacy disclosure.

According to Harri, developers who are found in violation of the agreement could be prosecuted under California's False Advertising Law and Unfair Competition Law.

"This agreement strengthens the privacy protections of California consumers and of millions of people around the globe who use mobile apps," Harris said in a press release. "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 and how it is used."

While Apple and Microsoft have similar privacy practices in place, according to the press release, only 5 percent of mobile apps available have a policy that discloses what personal information they gather.

In a statement discussing the six-company agreement, Google said it was proud to join the initiative. "From the beginning, Android has had an industry-leading permissions system which informs consumers what data an app can access and requires user approval before installation," the company said in a statement. "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 agreement is also receiving some criticism. Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said he believes the pact doesn't go far enough to protect the privacy rights of mobile app users.

"The AG has let consumers down by not negotiating a 'bill of rights' for consumers using mobile services," Chester told the Los Angeles. Times. "Consumers need new safeguards to ensure that their mobile data can't be used without their express consent. Today, consumers are being stealthily eavesdropped when they use their mobile phones, with no limits on [how] their information can be collected or used. Mobile phones are sending marketers information on our real-time location and mobile Web use. Privacy policies are purposely written to permit unfair data collection practices."

All this bill does, said Chester, is revise privacy policies that many fail to read in the first place.

The agreement calls for the six companies to meet with the attorney general in six months to report on the implementation status. However, there is no clear timeline when total compliance must be achieved.

About the Author

Chris Paoli (@ChrisPaoli5) is the associate editor for Converge360.