Attorney general wants more ID protection in apps

Not all consumers wary of giving out information
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Attorney General Kamala Harris issued recommendations Thursday for mobile application developers to protect consumer privacy.

The report recommends special notifications, such as icons or pop-up alerts, to inform consumers about how their personal information is being collected and shared.

“Californians want to know what personal information their apps collect, how it is used and with whom it is shared,” Harris said in a statement. “To meet this need and keep pace with rapidly changing technology, these recommendations strike a responsible balance between protecting consumers’ personal information and fostering the continued growth of the innovative app economy.”

However, not all Californians are that interested in knowing what the apps collect.

Ulises Arellano, a Placer High School graduate and Sierra College student, said he regularly uses apps on his iTouch, and ignores those disclaimers and policies that are displayed before downloading.

“I don’t even read them,” Arellano said. “I just hit ‘agree’ and download.”

Jeff Dion, owner of PC Solutions in Auburn, said part of the problem is people have their guard down by default.

Dion drew the analogy of home security when living in a big city.

“Lock everything up. Close it and lock it, and if you’re going to let someone in, you’ve got to ask someone who they are first,” he said. “It’s the same thing for the Internet.”

Half of American adults who own cell phones access the Internet from their devices, and more than 1,600 mobile apps are released every day onto the market, according to the attorney general’s office.

With anybody having the ability to develop an app and put it out for public consumption, the amount of safeguards put in place by the developers can vary greatly – an app from a big-name corporation is probably less likely to be a threat than an unknown programmer, Dion said.

Still, even companies like Facebook have come under fire for how they share personal information, he said.

“They’re finding your location, they know your gender, age, and whatever info you give them,” Dion said of apps in general. “The scary thing is, who else is going to get that data and combine together to make an even bigger data pool?”

Arellano said he typically downloads games or programs he can use for his studies, but he’s bitten on at least one app that hasn’t been of much use to him.

“The flashlight that just turns the screen white – I have it right now but I barely use it,” he said.

Dion said, aside from ensuring the program is virus free, an important thing to consider before downloading is: Will this be a useful tool, or just a gadget?

“Usually the tools are going to be more reliable and the gadgets are going to be faulty and more vulnerable,” he said.

Last year, Harris forged an agreement among the seven leading mobile and social app platforms: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Research in Motion. The pact involved displaying privacy policies users can find in a consistent location in the app store for that particular platform.

In October, Harris sent letters to 100 mobile app developers that weren’t in compliance of the California Online Privacy Protection Act, giving them 30 days to post a privacy policy, and in December the attorney general filed legal action against Delta Airlines, Inc. for violating online privacy laws.

“I don’t know if I would say the government should get involved, but I think it is a developer’s responsibility,” Dion said. “There should be policies put in place … to be responsible and not allow people to just take date from people, or abuse it.”


Jon Schultz can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews