Mobile network operators set guidelines for app privacy

Digital rights groups, however,,, question the value of a voluntary code

Amid growing concerns over the privacy policies of mobile phone apps, the GSMA has published a set of guidelines that aims to give users more transparency, choice and control over how apps use their personal information.

The guidelines, published on Monday, outline how consumers' privacy should be protected when they are using mobile applications and services that access, use or collect personal information. European mobile phone operators including Orange, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom have said they will implement the guidelines, but with many apps being developed independently of the big players, digital rights organizations have questioned how valuable a voluntary code of conduct really is.

Anne Bouverot, Director General, GSMA admitted that there are significant privacy concerns over what apps do with users' information. "The privacy guidelines which are being implemented now are an important first step, but to effect real change, there needs to be close collaboration between the mobile industry, Internet industry, civil society and regulators," said Bouverot.

Facebook is just one of the companies in the firing line following revelations over the weekend that installing its Android app gives the Internet giant permission to read users' text messages. Facebook says that this permission is freely given by users and that it has not taken advantage of this right anyway.

"Other than some very limited testing, we haven't launched anything so we're not using the permission. When we do, it will be obvious to users what's happening," said the social networking site.

Path, another mobile social network, also recently attracted criticism for uploading users' address books without explicitly asking for permission. But apps from Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, Foodspotting, Flickr, Yahoo and Yelp also suck information from users' phones.

Most commonly, apps access names and email addresses. Some store this information and some do not, some ask for permission and some do not. There is such confusion in the market, that Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, described it as "an unregulated Wild West."

He welcomed the move by GSMA, which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, but said it fails to address the broader question of who is responsible for the unscrupulous gathering of personal data. "Far greater regulation is required before apps are installed, as it is hardly a fair choice between granting apps the access they want or not being able to use the app at all," said Pickles.

"Consumers are downloading seemingly innocuous apps without realizing their phone calls, location and text messages are all potentially being monitored," he continued. The Facebook app has been downloaded to Google's Android smartphones more than 100 million times. If Facebook is not using the information it collects, why has it gone to such lengths to collect the data, Pickles asked. "There appears to be a mentality amongst app developers that just because they have the ability to access this data then they should, whether they have the intention to manipulate it or not."

For many apps developers the answer is simple: they can make more money selling information about consumers to advertisers and market research companies than charging for the app. It is a problem that even the big mobile companies have started to take note of.

"In order to maintain the strong growth in both the sales and popularity of mobile apps, customers need to be confident that their privacy is protected when they use them," said Stephen Deadman, group privacy officer, Vodafone.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jennifer Baker

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Bitdefender 2018

With determination and drive, you achieve outstanding performance! Get Bitdefender Total Security 2018 Now!

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?