Most Apps’ Privacy Policies Continue To Be Missing In Action

Digital privacy has received a lot of attention in the past year, but one area that stands out as still lacking is the fast-growing world of mobile apps. The Future of Privacy Forum think tank analyzed the top 30 paid apps this week, and discovered that 22 of them lacked even a basic privacy policy. The existence of a written privacy policy is a minimum standard that all developers should adhere to, says FPF, and now the group has put together a website,, meant to help developers create privacy policies and stick to them.

FPF director Jules Polonetsky emphasized that app developers shouldn’t be count on the big companies who own the platforms they work with, like Facebook, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Google (NSDQ: GOOG), to handle all their privacy issues for them. “App developers with limited staff or resources can end up being responsible for the data of millions of users,” Polonetsky said in a blog post about the launch of the application privacy site. “Platforms and operating systems have roles to play, but app developers themselves need to be responsible for their own practices.”

Nearly all companies that collect any consumer data online have privacy policies on their website, because of a California state law that mandates such policies be published. There’s no law clearly mandating that apps need to have published privacy policies, but it’s universally considered a good practice, even though privacy policies are often criticized as opaque and unintelligible by consumers.

In addition to the FPF analysis showing that 22 of 30 apps were missing privacy policies, a study commissioned last year by the Wall Street Journal (NSDQ: NWS) found that 45 out of 101 apps they analyzed had no privacy policies, either in-app or on the app developer’s website.

The site includes tools for developers to build privacy policies for their apps, as well as privacy news, research, and information about currently existing privacy laws. is run by the Future of Privacy Forum think tank, and is sponsored by several large companies, including Facebook, Google, and AT&T (NYSE: T).

Some details from the FPF study [PDF]:

»  Of the top ten iPhone apps, only two–Rovio’s Angry Birds Rio and Zynga’s Words With Friends–have privacy policies. Popular games like Tiny Wings, Doodle God, Where’s Waldo? and Fruit Ninja have no policies. For Angry Birds (regular), there’s a privacy policy for the company but none specific to the app.

»  Android fares slightly better, with four of the top ten apps having privacy policies. Another two have company-wide privacy policies but none specific to their apps.