Mobile experts disagree on who should protect privacy

A privacy consultant calls on app developers to be more responsible, while a developer points to app marketplace operators

Users of mobile apps need more information about the ways those apps use their personal information, a group of experts agreed Thursday, but they didn't agree on who is most responsible for protecting user privacy.

Apple and Google can better police their app marketplaces, although both companies have several good privacy protections, said Todd Moore, founder of app vendor TMSoft, during a discussion on mobile app privacy at the State of the Mobile Net conference in Washington, D.C. The operators of the iPhone and Android app marketplaces are in the best position to enforce privacy controls and set rules limiting the amount of information apps can collect, he said.

One app marketplace required Moore's sound app to have access to information about whether the phone was being used for a voice call, so that the app could turn off sounds during a call. Some TMSoft customers have questioned why the app wants that access, Moore said. "I don't want that level of access," he added.

But Ashkan Soltani, an independent security and privacy researcher, said app developers bear most of the responsibility for protecting privacy. App developers need to police themselves, given that many consumers don't understand the privacy implications of the apps they download, he said.

App developers must embrace a set of standard privacy practices going forward, Soltani said.

Panelists debated Girls Around Me, an iPhone app that alerted users to nearby women, or men, who shared their location on Foursquare. App maker SMS Services voluntarily pulled the app about a month ago after concerns about stalking.

"We can try to exercise some maturity in app development," Soltani said.

One a scale of one to 10, Girls Around Me was "a 10 creepy," said Sarah Hudgins, public policy director at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an online advertising trade group.

Moore agreed that the app was creepy, but said several other apps use user-generated Foursquare check-in information to connect people. "What is wrong with displaying publicly available information?" he said. "Who's at fault for that?"

If U.S. policy makers count solely on app developers to protect privacy, there will always be renegade developers who seek to exploit privacy, Moore added.

Hudgins called on a wider effort to protect privacy, including developers, mobile carriers, app marketplace operators and consumers. "This is a shared responsibility," she said. "At the end of the day, this has to be a community effort."

More detailed privacy notices, including why apps are collecting personal data, are needed, said Patricia Poss, chief of the mobile technology unit at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The Girls Around Me case illustrated the point that many users of Web service and mobile apps don't know all the ways their information will be used, she said.

"A big piece of this is the invisible collection [of personal data] that consumers cannot see," she said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Or

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.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Brother MFC-L3745CDW Colour Laser Multifunction

Learn more >

Mobile

Exec

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?