California attorney-general urges app developers to consider consumer privacy

California attorney general Kamala Harris has published a new set of guidelines for the mobile industry, with the intention of encouraging application developers to think carefully about the importance of consumer privacy.

Privacy On The Go: Recommendations for the Mobile Ecosystem is a 22 page document which outlines vulnerability management suggestions for application developers, platform providers, advertising networks and others.

According to Ms Harris, 1,600 new mobile apps are released to the marketplace every day, each allowing users to perform a wide variety of tasks with greater ease and convenience.

However, she notes that while these applications can be massively beneficial to everyday life, they can also bring significant dangers to individual privacy, which consumers and developers alike need to be wary of.

"[T]he mobile environment … poses uncharted privacy challenges, such as the difficulty of providing consumers with meaningful information about privacy choices on small screens and the many players who may have access to sensitive user information," writes Ms Harris in the introduction to the document.

"These are challenges that we must confront and that we must resolve in a way that appropriately protects privacy while not unduly stifling innovation."

Amongst the recommendations issued in the document is the suggestion that app developers start with a 'data checklist' in order to review all of the personal information that the app in question will collect.

App developers have also been encouraged to develop a clear and accurate privacy policy which all users and potential users can access and understand.

Another thing that any organisation looking at developing an application should keep in mind is the value of professional mobile application security testing, which can determine any potential vulnerabilities in the app that might make it vulnerable to cybercriminals.

The document goes on to encourage application platform providers to take a part in ensuring mobile application data privacy, by using their platforms to educate users on this issue.

Ms Harris believes that the recommendations contained within Privacy on the Go strike the necessary balance between protecting consumer information whilst still encouraging growth in the application development community.

"It is my hope that our recommendations along with continued private-public collaborations will contribute to improving privacy practices in the mobile marketplace," she writes.

While the document may be targeted towards US-based application developers, the Australian mobile industry may also want to take note of the suggestions put forth by Ms Harris and her team, as consumer privacy is an important issue both here and abroad.

The full Privacy on the Go report can be read by clicking here.

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