Apple, Google, other tech giants agree on mobile app privacy

24 Feb 2012

California's Attorney General Kamala D Harris. Image courtesy of

Tech giants Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon, Research in Motion, Hewlett-Packard, as well as developers on their platforms, have all agreed to provide greater privacy disclosures before users download mobile apps.

California’s Attorney General Kamala D Harris confirmed she has reached the agreement with six of the largest players in the mobile-device market right now.  

Yesterday, at a press conference in San Francisco, she confirmed that Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Research In Motion had agreed to the fact that California law requires apps to have privacy policies.

Harris also indicated that 22 of the 30 most-downloaded apps in the world currently don’t have privacy policies. She alluded to how some “populations” aren’t equipped with the knowledge of mobile technology’s potential uses.

“We seek to give them tools to protect themselves,” she said.

California’s 2004 Online Privacy Protection Act

And while the agreement with the consumer tech giants relates to California’s 2004 Online Privacy Protection Act that requires privacy policies, Harris said the agreement would benefit app “users everywhere”. There had been some confusion in recent years about whether the law applied to mobile apps.

“Your personal privacy should not be the cost of using mobile apps, but all too often it is,” Harris said at the press conference.

“This agreement strengthens the privacy protections of California consumers and of millions of people around the globe who use mobile apps.

”Most mobile apps make no effort to inform users about how personal information is used,” she said. ”The consumer should be informed of what they are giving up”.

The move comes after The Wall Street Journal reported on 17 February that Google and others used a special code that tricked Apple’s Safari browser into letting them monitor users.

That spurred on three lawmakers from the U.S. House of Representatives to call on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether the Google was in fact violating a consent agreement it reached with the FTC last year.

Just on Wednesday, Harris was also among US state lawmakers who signed a letter to Google CEO Larry Page to express ”serious concerns” over Google’s recent decision to consolidate its privacy policy.

So what’s the next step in the new app privacy agreement that’s being taken by the six tech giants? The companies will meet the attorney general in six months to discuss and assess compliance among their developers.

However, Harris did acknowledge there was “no clear timeline” to begin the enforcement.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic