Smartphone Apps Continue To Invoke Privacy Concerns

Smartphone apps are getting more and more comprehensive everyday it seems, and with the advent of location-based services, mobile social networking and other genres, privacy is becoming increasingly important.

There’s been a recent surge of developers and consumers that have noticed what some apps are doing behind the scenes in terms of gathering user information- and it’s raising concerns for those who value their privacy.  A programmer recently discovered, for example, that Pre’s smartphone OS was sending users’ GPS information back to Palm, even though the company’s privacy policy revealed as much.

In addition, ReadWriteWeb is reporting that mobile analytics company Pinch Media allows developers to insert code into applications in order to create a user profile.  The information is designed to help developers, although some consider the technique invasive.  If the user profile is used with good intentions to help the app in what ever it’s supposed to accomplish, then so be it, but when that user information is used for other purposes without the user’s consent, it creates a big problem.

The regulations associated with this sort of thing are very ambiguous- app developers submitting to Apple’s App store, for example, aren’t required to reveal what types of data they’re tracking.  Also, when users consent to have their location revealed, app developers don’t necessarily have to disclose what additional data they’re tracking.

Until regulation is put in place, the only defense is to go over every single line of your TOS and privacy policy associated with any new app you think will collect sensitive user information- since almost nobody will do such a thing, we’re still at the mercy of the app developers.