Sen. Franken Seeks App Privacy Policies From Apple, Google

U.S. Senator Al Franken finds the deal "troubling."

Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) released a letter Wednesday calling for the institution of mandatory privacy policies from all apps offered via the official software marketplaces of Apple and Google. The request is a formal version of one of the suggestions made at Sen. Franken’s May 10 judiciary subcommittee hearing on mobile tech privacy.

While some apps already have a privacy policy accessible through the apps themselves, Sen. Franken’s office points out that they represent only a very small percentage of the total number of apps available. A recent study by TRUSTe and Harris Interactive  found that less than 20 percent of the top 340 paid apps being used on smartphones included a link to a privacy policy, Sen. Franken notes in the letter. The result is that users aren’t generally well aware of what information is gathered by apps, and how that info is used.

In his letter, which is jointly addressed to Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Google CEO Larry Page, Sen. Franken requests Apple and Google “commit to requiring that all applications in the Apple App Store and the Android App Market have clear and understandable privacy policies,” as a “simple first step towards further protecting your users’ privacy.” Franken writes that he’s singling out Google and Apple because of their role as key influencers with an outsized share of the mobile app industry pie.

Sen. Franken argues,”there is a greater need for transparency and disclosure for the collection and sharing of all personal information,” [emphasis in the original], but requests that “at a minimum,” apps that make use of location data specifically be required to “provide privacy policies that clearly specify what kind of location information is gathered from users, how that information is used, and how it is shared with third parties.”

The Senator closes his letter by observing that instituting such a policy only serves to reinforce the sentiment expressed repeatedly by both Google and Apple that they are “committed to protecting users’ privacy.” Indeed, the request by Sen. Franken would be a relatively small concession that could help the mobile industry avoid legislative intervention regarding privacy issues, since the onus would mostly be on app developers, and wouldn’t require tremendous changes in the way Apple and Google do business. Even so, Sen. Franken does refer to the implementation of privacy policy requirements as a “first step,” so the issue probably isn’t just going to go away, even with industry cooperation.

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