Sunday, December 19, 2010

One Reason Online Privacy Rules Are Coming

An examination of 101 popular smartphone apps by the Wall Street Journal show that that 56 transmitted the phone's unique device ID to other companies without users' awareness or consent. Not everybody would think that especially intrusive.

Some 47 apps transmitted the phone's location in some way. Five sent age, gender and other personal details to outsiders.

Apple says that iPhone apps can’t transmit user data without approval, but the WSJ’s findings reveal many apps that don’t follow that rule. Google leaves it up to app makers to make users aware of the data their apps reveal. Android also gives users specific notes about the phone resources (including hardware and data) apps will use before they’re downloaded.

Unfortunately, there’s little users can do to protect themselves from data-sharing apps, aside from avoiding many popular apps entirely, the report suggests. Many mobile ad companies let users opt-out of their website tracking, but those opt-out lists don’t apply to apps, according to the WSJ. The ad company Jumptap says iPhone users can opt out of app data sharing by emailing their phone’s user ID to them. Apple says its iAd opt-out also applies to apps (but doesn’t prevent iTunes data from being collected).

The findings reveal the intrusive effort by online-tracking companies to gather personal data about people in order to flesh out detailed dossiers on them, and suggest why there will be growing political pressure to toughen online privacy, and mobile privacy by extension, if not formal and specific rules relating to mobile data.

read more here if you aren't a Wall Street Journal subscriber.

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