App Developers: Get Advice on Privacy

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The privacy problem with apps has been percolating for some time. Several high-profile reports have brought attention to this issue; Path’s embarassing privacy breach is just one of many cases where app developers have (intentionally or otherwise) harvested private details about app users by dipping into address books and location-data. App developers should take note: Get legal advice on privacy before you launch your app.

In the US, a patch-work of industry-specific privacy laws has made this a confusing area of law. In Canada, the landscape is still complex, but is underpinned by private-sector privacy laws that apply to “personal information” across all industries, at both the federal and provincial level.

This month, the California Attorney General has entered into an agreement with mobile app platform vendors - Amazon, Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Research In Motion - to improve privacy protections for app users. This arrangement implements certain “privacy principles” and requires app developers to have a privacy policy, something that would bring app developers in line with Canadian law.  This is not new legislation, merely a loose commitment by the mobile app industry, so it cannot be enforced as law. However, it has helped shine a spotlight on this issue. 

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