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Mobile apps failing to provide basic privacy information

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16th Sep 2014
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Given the public love affair with mobile apps, it’s hardly a surprise that some providers exploit privacy settings and personal information to acquire data.

However, according to the Global Privacy Enforcement Network (GPEN), around 85% of all mobile apps currently fail to provide a “basic level of privacy information”.          

Examining the information provided by 1,211 mobile apps across the globe, GPEN found that most apps refrain from explaining how they are collecting, using and disclosing personal data, and that 59% of apps leave users “struggling to find basic privacy information”.

It also found that one in three appears made an “excessive” amount of permission requests, such as social media logins and third-party tie-ins, in order to obtain further personal information.

43% of apps fail to provide privacy communications suitable for small screen mobile devices, GPEN added.  

“Apps are becoming central to our lives, so it is important we understand how they work and what they are doing with our information,” Simon Rice, Group Manager for Technology at the Information Commissioner’s Office, the UK’s regulatory member for GPEN, and collaborator for the mobile app study.  

“Today’s results show that many app developers are still failing to provide this information in a way that is clear and understandable to the average consumer. The ICO and the other GPEN members will be writing out to those developers where there is clear room for improvement. We will also be publishing guidance to explain the steps people can take to help protect their information when using mobile apps.”

The ICO has published guidance on mobile app privacy to support GPEN’s findings and help app developers in the UK meet requirements outlined by the UK Data Protection Act. Despite recent research suggesting that as many as 49% of app users have decided not to download an app due to privacy concerns, GPEN’s study did highlight that there are still many examples of good practice in the mobile app space.

The regulators were particularly impressed by the use of just-in-time notifications on certain apps that informed users of the potential collection as it was about to happen. It stated these approaches “make it easier for people to understand how their information is being used and when”.

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