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What Developers Need To Know About App Privacy

Intel developer blogger Wendy Boswell has brought the legally convoluted subject of application privacy to light this month. Reports suggest that U.S. Representative member Hank Johnson (of Georgia) has drafted a bill aimed at trying to give users more control over their application data.

The Application Privacy, Protection, and Security Act can be found in its discussion draft form at this stage and it could have big implications for developers.

The bottom line here (argues Intel's Boswell) is that software application developers building their next app would have to consider the need to surrender to users all the information that an app intends to use, for any purpose. Data collection would also require affirmation of consent.

NOTE: In closely related developments, the attorney general of California just issued a set of mobile app privacy guidelines as part of the California Online Privacy Protection Act.

There is plenty to read on this subject: A study has been carried out questioning over 1000 users by the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, which suggested that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe they should enjoy a generally high level of privacy when it comes to the data that they interact with on their mobile phones.

"This drafted legislation is based partly on ideas solicited on apprights.us; a project launched last summer in order to get an idea from the general public (as well as meetings with app developers, public interest groups, and industry leaders) on better ways to safeguard the rights of users when using apps," writes Boswell.

"This proposed bill will require apps to give consumers notice in advance regarding any data that they are about to collect, and how this data will be used, shared, or stored. The developer would have to obtain consent in advance for any of these practices. Violations of these safeguards would be handled by the Federal Trade Commission, and state attorney generals would be allowed to bring civil suits against the offending developer(s) as necessary."

Boswell's advice is based upon an assertion that this kind of activity is "the first wave" of what is coming down the pike. Developers will be affected by these bills as they are passed, she says. This means that we will all need to stay aware of what is changing in the world of app privacy so every programmer can incorporate these guidelines into their apps in the future.

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