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Regulators Take Action Against Apps That Abuse Your Privacy

California and several big tech companies team up to keep mobile apps from leaking your personal information without disclosing it.

If you've been waiting for government regulators to step in and do something about apps that collect and transmit your data without telling you, I have some good news for you: The State of California, along with a number of major tech companies, teamed up Wednesday to have come together to strengthen privacy protections in smartphone and tablet apps.

According to a statement released by California Attorney General Kamala Haris, the State, along with Apple, HP, Microsoft, and Google, will work together to make sure that any apps sold through their app markets will conform to California state law, which requires that any app that collects personal information to have a privacy policy that outlines what information it collects, and what it does with it.

According to the statement, under this agreement, the app markets must give you a chance to review an app's privacy policy before you install it onto your smartphone and tablet, and it must be places in "a consistent location for an app's privacy policy on the application-download screen" so you'll know where to look. App makers that don't conform to these standards could be prosecuted under California's Unfair Competition Law and/or False Advertising Law.

In the last year or so, a number of app makers have come under fire for collecting or sharing personal information without telling their users. Earlier this month, the Patch social networking app got caught uploading users' address book data without asking for permission (the company since stopped the practice and apologized); last April, the US Government investigated the privacy practices of a number of smartphone app makers, including Pandora.

This agreement is a good first step toward improving mobile app privacy, but there's still more work to do. As our Mark Sullivan recently said, we need more legal protections in place to safeguard user data. And I would go one step further: Companies need to write privacy policies that mere mortals--and not just lawyers--can decipher. After all, for most of us, having a privacy policy (or terms of use statement) loaded up with jargon is about as good as having no privacy policy at all.

Still, we look forward to seeing what comes from this agreement, and hope that it helps keep companies honest.

[State of California via New York Times and Gizmodo]

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