Several recent stories have highlighted the concerns over personal information, privacy and the reach of mobile apps. Once again, the law is labouring to keep up with technology.
So-called Cyber-Stalking Apps provide the means to track the location of a phone through an app that is not visible or easily detectable by the phone’s owner. The cloaked app resides on the phone and essentially reports back to the person who installed the app on the user’s whereabouts. In the US, a proposed law has been drafted to make such apps illegal (The Location Protection Privacy Act). This draft legislation moved out of committee and may become law in 2013.
A number of mobile apps have been criticized for collecting personal information about kids, and selling that info without parents’ consent. To tackle these problems associated with mobile apps directed at children, privacy advocates have been pushing for changes to the rules under COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) amended the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule in December 2012. The Rule now applies to mobile apps and web-based text messaging programs, and requires app developers to get permission from parents before collecting a child’s photographs, videos and geolocational information. The amended Rules will become effective on July 1, 2013.
It is worth noting that these are both developments under US law. In Canada, app developers who target children’s personal information would be caught by Canada’s broad private-sector privacy laws, such as the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) at the federal level, or one of the provincial-level privacy laws, such as the Personal Information Protection Act in Alberta. Cloaked “cyber-stalking” apps could constitute an invasion of privacy contrary to Canadian law. However, that would apply to the person who surreptitiously loaded the stalking app, rather than the app developer.