iPhone apps to provide more privacy information before you download them

by Phil Hornshaw

It’s been a month full of controversy for the app world, with outrage over privacy concerns and apps sharing user data catching the public attention, and eventually, that of lawmakers and lawyers.

The result, however, is for the better for owners of Apple’s iOS-running mobile devices. As The Next Web reports, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has announced a new agreement among many companies in the mobile app sphere that will present users with information about how apps will affect their information and privacy before they’re downloaded.

Currently, users on Apple’s iTunes App Store don’t necessarily know a lot about what they’re getting into when they download an app. Sometimes information about how an app operates or its privacy access is made available within the app after it’s downloaded, but many apps don’t include visible privacy policies at all. While users of Google’s Android mobile operating system receive a notification detailing what areas of their devices an app will gain access to when they download it (like the ability to access their address book, or the ability to save things to the device’s memory), no such notification exists for Apple users.

According to TNW’s report, that’s about to change. Apple, along with HP, Research In Motion, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, has agreed to new conditions that will allow users to see the privacy policy of every app before they download them. It’s actually pretty similar to what Google already does with the Android Market, where a tab shows users what an app will access even before they hit the button to download. Once they do, they’re also hit with the pop-up notification mentioned above. Amazon and Microsoft supply similar information in their app stores, as well.

California law requires that all apps have an easily accessible privacy policy, so the agreement between the companies and the attorney general will bring the iTunes App Store and the other app stores in line with it. Failure to comply with the law leaves them open to prosecution under California’s False Advertising law, Harris’ statement says. The app markets also have to supply users with a means of reporting apps that aren’t complying with the new privacy policy, upon which Apple, Google and the rest are required to act.

This all stems from the latest in a series of near-scandals over privacy in the quickly growing smartphone world. The story began with iOS social networking app Path, which was transmitting and saving user address book information in plain text on its servers as part of one of its app’s features. Path has since deleted that information and prompted users to notify them their address book information is being transmitted. The controversy surrounding Path brought to light that lots of other apps were transmitting and saving address book information including Twitter and Instagram. Both have since been updated to prompt users so they know their address books will be accessed with certain features.

But the controversy surrounding those apps seems to have spurred some positive changes. Individual app makers across the mobile sphere have altered their apps to be more careful with user data, and now the companies with the biggest influence are agreeing to take user privacy more seriously.