California AG Harris urges app developers to respect users' privacy

The attorney general calls on mobile apps to improve how they display their privacy policies

The wealth of personal data that mobile apps collect on their users needs to be conspicuously stated to consumers or developers could face legal heat, California attorney general Kamala D. Harris said Wednesday.

Rather than resorting to subpoenas and enforcement actions, the California attorney general's office is in the midst of a crusade of sorts built around encouraging app developers, and Internet services firms in general, to become compliant with state privacy laws on their own accord.

Last year, for instance, the office reached an agreement with a number of major tech companies, including Facebook and Google, to make the privacy policies for those companies' mobile apps available to consumers in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store before the download process rather than after. The idea is to encourage technology companies that have access to users' personal identifiable information such as geolocation and contact lists to better inform consumers how that information is used so consumers can make better decisions about using the app in the first place.

California has some of the strongest privacy laws in the country and is often seen as a bellwether for how other states nationwide will grapple with the ongoing issues surrounding consumer privacy and mobile apps. Striking the right balance between innovation and protecting users' privacy, therefore, is an issue high on Harris' agenda.

"I'm very excited about this work, but I'm also a career prosecutor," the state's top attorney said. Her comments were delivered to an audience of roughly 100 app developers and others working in the mobile market during a conference on the topic at the University of California's Hastings College of Law in San Francisco.

"We're here to encourage that innovation, and to work together to figure out how we can balance the litigation interests at play when we talk about the need for the consumer to have information, and the right that consumers should have to determine what they want to give up for what they get," she said.

"It's with great excitement, and also responsibility and purpose, to make sure we protect those rights that have to be protected," Harris added.

A major law at the center of the issue in California is the Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires operators of websites and online services, including mobile and social apps that collect personally identifiable information from Californians, to clearly post a privacy policy.

The state has already sued Delta Airlines for failing to comply with the law; that case is ongoing.

Although Harris sought to express excitement for technology at the conference, some attendees were not quite sure whether her remarks, as well similar comments made by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, signaled that attorneys and regulators were more excited by their work or ready to fight back against it legally.

"I agree with you, but at the same time I'm terrified of you," said Jonathan Nelson, a developer with the group Hackers & Founders, during a panel discussion. Part of the issue, he said, is that developers don't have enough resources available to them to make sense of the legal landscape.

"I suspect there are a number of people who are scared that they could violate digital privacy laws inadvertently," Nelson said.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags mobile applicationsGoogleintellectual propertylegalmobileDelta AirlinesFacebook

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Zach Miners

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?