updated 05:25 pm EDT, Wed May 25, 2011
Apple and Google told app privacy must be clear
Minnesota Senator Al Franken in a letter to Apple and Google following last week's Senate hearings asked both of them to establish clear app privacy policies. Those who bought from the App Store or Android Market would be given an explanation of what information the apps wanted and who was getting the data. The non-binding request would give a "clearer understanding" of what was happening and avoid instances of apps getting more than they needed.
The former comedian was careful not to raise the possibility of the request becoming a proposed law. He nonetheless suggested it might end some of the debates over the subject.
"Apple and Google have each said time and again that they are committed to protecting users’ privacy," Franken said. "This is an easy opportunity for your companies to put that commitment into action."
Both companies provide a level of information about an app and let users control how much of their information gets out, though they don't necessarily show a complete picture or provide information up front. iOS apps, for example, prompt users the first time an app requests the user's location but aren't required to explain in advance that it's a feature or to say what else might be leaving the device. Android Market will show that an app needs access to contacts, messages, or other features, but developers aren't pushed to explain what parts of that information are used or where it will go.
Most of the immediate concerns over privacy have focused on location. Some Android apps, however, have raised concerns that customers aren't being told of the reasons behind data requests. Screensaver apps have requested contact information for relatively innocuous purposes while others have taken data for scam purposes. Such instances aren't impossible in the App Store but are less likely given inherent limits on what iOS apps are allowed to do.
Neither Apple nor Google had given a public response to Franken's letter as of late Wednesday. [via The Loop]