Apple clamps down on apps sharing data on users’ friends

13 Jun 2018

App Store icon on iPhone. Image: MichaelJayBerlin/Shutterstock

Apple has made information use rules for app developers more restrictive.

Apple quietly made a change to its App Store rules last week that will limit how app developers can use data about iPhone users’ contacts and friends. This change will curb a practice that has been used by app builders for years to juice growth and generate revenue.

Users were previously asked for access to their phone contacts and that data was often used for marketing, shared or even sold on without permission from the other people in a user’s digital contact list.

According to Bloomberg, the new App Store Review Guidelines now ban developers from making databases with information gleaned from iPhone owners’ contacts, and restrict them from sharing and/or selling such databases with third parties.

Stricter guidelines from Apple

Apps can no longer access someone’s contact list, say it is being used for a certain purpose and then use it for another purpose without express consent from the user.

The update guidelines lay out the changes: “Do not use information from Contacts, Photos or other APIs that access user data to build a contact database for your own use or for sale/distribution to third parties, and don’t collect information about which other apps are installed on a user’s device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/marketing.”

Third-party data sharing can be treacherous

The practice of sharing friends’ information without their express consent has been in the news all year, centred on Facebook and its allowance of a third-party developer to obtain data of more than 87m people during the Cambridge Analytica debacle. Facebook has emphasised that this data sharing was against its rules.

It looks as though Apple is trying to prevent similar misuse of information with the new regulatory updates.

Its CEO, Tim Cook, was critical of Facebook following the revelations earlier in 2018. In March of this year, Cook said: “The ability of anyone to know what you’ve been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike, and every intimate detail of your life – from my own point of view, it shouldn’t exist.”

While Apple is acting to safeguard data at this point, there is very little that can be done in terms of retrieving the data that has already been shared. iPhone users can turn off contact permissions in settings, but this does not mean developers relinquish any data already supplied to them.

App Store icon on iPhone. Image: MichaelJayBerlin/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects