Mobile App Developers Getting Privacy Savvy, per Study

Report released by D.C. think tank day before government meeting

Under mounting pressure from regulators and the Obama administration, mobile app developers are becoming more privacy savvy. In fact, the vast majority, 61.3 percent, have privacy policies that detail what personal data is collected and how it is used, according to a study released Wednesday from the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

As more free, ad-supported apps enter the market, more app developers are turning to mobile ad networks to monetize their products. That dynamic has caused more developers to step up their privacy games, per the study.

Indeed, the numbers seem to bear that out. The percentage of free apps on the iOS App Store doubled from 40 percent to 84 percent between last September and June, said the Future of Privacy Forum report. Similarly, the think tank found on the Google platform that the percentage of free apps with a privacy policy increased 70 percent to 76 percent. Paid apps were a slightly different story with the percentage of apps on the iOS App Store platform increasing to 64 percent from 60 percent and up 30 percent to 48 percent on the Google platform.

The timing of the study is no accident, distributed the day before the government's first meeting to hammer out an enforceable privacy code of conduct as framed in the Commerce Department's privacy report. The all-day affair, open to everyone, kicks off a series of meetings, with Thursday's focus on the transparency of mobile app privacy policies.

Hundreds are expected to attend Thursday's gathering, where a wide range of opinions will be represented from those who want self-regulation to those who want strict mandates.

"The administration is trying to find a compromise," said Jules Polonetsky, co-director of the FPF. He's hoping his study will be part of the discussion. With the Center for Democracy & Technology, the groups also released best practices for mobile app developers.

"Apps seem to be getting the message. The saber rattling by the regulators is driving a real response," Polonetsky said. "It took websites many years to develop privacy policies. Despite all the criticism of apps being clueless, this shows they are pretty nimble when they get the message."

The FPF's study of 150 popular apps across three platforms (Apple, Google, Kindle Fire) also looked at how and when consumers could access the app privacy policies and if apps that collected location data provided privacy policies. Both are hot points in the Washington privacy debate.

"My hope is apps get ahead of this before Washington types tell them what to do," Polonetsky said.


Recommended articles