Australian government tells mobile app developers to buckle down on privacy

A new report from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) found that 60 per cent of people who do not have smartphones said that security concerns were the biggest deterrent for getting one.

This is an alarmingly high number, and prompted the government to urge developers to make mobile application security one of the top priorities when developing new apps.

"Mobile privacy: A better practice guide for mobile app developers" features an in-depth outline for how application designers can build products with better privacy and security measures. It also gives clear-cut instructions for how to comply with privacy laws throughout Australia.

"Mobile app developers operating in the Australian market need to be aware of how Australian privacy regulation applies, otherwise they risk breaching the law," said Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim.

"I'm recommending that app developers adopt a 'privacy by design' approach right from the beginning of an application’s development to help make sure it is privacy-friendly."

Mr Pilgrim added that it should be common sense for app developers to use the best privacy protections available when designing apps. Those who do, he said, will be able to produce the most in-demand applications, considering how skeptical the Australian public still is over smartphone use.

Focussing on the consumer

The report states that when developers write their privacy notices for the public to read, they should be short and concise to encourage users to read – and understand – every aspect of them.

"People are confronted with privacy policies that are increasingly lengthy, complex and time-consuming to read," Mr Pilgrim added.

"Trying to read one of these on a smartphone screen is even more challenging."

App makers will also have to focus on the growing demand for transparency in the IT sector – specifically what happens to their personal information.

Despite the high number of people who choose not to own a smartphone for security reasons, the survey found that overall smartphone use is indeed up. About 76 per cent of respondents said they owned a smartphone in 2012, compared with 67 per cent who said the same in 2011.

Another 84 per cent said they planned to buy a smartphone by the end of 2013.

With so much growth in smartphone use, mobile application security will only become more important in the coming years.

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