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What recent developments in mobile privacy law mean for app makers

From the recent iCloud scandal to the Sony hacking incident, the security of private information on web based software has never been more of a pressing issue.

With both apps and the privacy threats to them being international and without borders, it can be hard for legislative bodies to come up with solutions that effectively tackle the problem. In addition to this, there is the ongoing concern about the way apps themselves manage data, and how the many and varied ways that apps collect information interact with national and international law.

With this in mind, the Global Privacy Enforcement Network (GPEN), a collection of 23 privacy authorities from across the globe, issued an open letter on the 9th of December to app marketplaces. While it was addressed to the big players like Apple, Google and Amazons, it is considered by GPEN to bear a message to all places where apps are listed and sold. The letter contains findings from its “privacy sweep” of the previous year, which look at how some of the apps in each marketplace collected and managed their user data. Chief among the sweep's findings was that a great number of apps (30% in total) were listed with no noticeable privacy policy, meaning that consumers had no way of knowing what data usage they were agreeing to before downloading an app. 59% were described as giving insufficient or incomplete information.

The letter goes on to recommend that app marketplaces, as a fundamental gateway to the public for app developers, to make it mandatory part of using their service that app developers provide up front information or links to their privacy policy on the pages that their apps are listed on, ie the same place where customers read the age rating, size and version of the app.

It remains to be seen what the impact of this letter is to be on mobile app development, or whether developers being more up front about privacy policies will significantly impact the way every day customers browse and consume apps, but if taken seriously, it could signal a significant shift towards tighter gate keeping undertaken by app marketplaces worldwide.