EDITORIAL: Privacy worries? Calif. AG has an app for that
Jan 14, 2013 (The Fresno Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
With all the amazing apps for smartphones and tablets, users' privacy can get lost in the buzz. California Attorney General Kamala Harris deserves credit for keeping her eye on this important issue.
Last week her office issued privacy recommendations for mobile app developers, following up on its privacy principles for mobile devices and operating systems that leading companies including Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft adopted last year.
The bottom line is that consumers should know what personal information they're sharing and with whom, and have informed consent. Mobile apps allow us to play games, find a nearby restaurant, monitor our heart rate and much more. But, as the attorney general notes, there are privacy challenges with mobile devices that go beyond those with laptops and desktop computers.
Smartphones are almost always on and with us. Mobile devices can store many more kinds of data -- information such as phone call logs, text messages, even locations where we've been. But smaller screens on phones and tablets make sharing privacy policies more difficult.
The most intriguing recommendation is for special alerts to pop up before sensitive or unexpected information is collected, so you can opt out of the app. That would be more helpful than lengthy privacy statements that few of us take the trouble to read. Another recommendation is that an app should not collect personal information that isn't needed for its basic functions.
While these are voluntary "best practices" that go beyond existing law, the industry had input and largely has been willing to go along so far. While less than 50% of apps had privacy policies when Harris issued the principles early last year, nearly 85% do now, her office says.
It's good for Californians that Harris is ahead of officials in other states on this issue. Besides privacy concerns, jobs are at stake because a big chunk of the industry is based in our state. Too much regulation can raise costs for consumers and get in the way of entrepreneurs.
Some watchdog groups want Harris to go further and mandate privacy rights for mobile users. If Harris' step-by-step approach works, it may not have to come to that.
Tell us what you think. Comment on this editorial by going to fresnobee.com/opinion, then click on the editorial.
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