Apple Deals with App Privacy Issues

Monday, February 20, 2012 @ 06:02 PM gHale

Apple moved to quiet a privacy issue by saying it will begin to require iPhone and iPad apps to seek “explicit approval” in separate user prompts before accessing users’ address book data, after the company felt heat from U.S. legislators.

Apple’s move came shortly after two members of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce committee requested the company to provide more information about its privacy policies. There have been published reports that some of the most popular software applications in Apple’s App Store have been able to lift private address book data without user consent.

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“Apps that collect or transmit a user’s contact data without their prior permission are in violation of our guidelines,” an Apple spokesman said. “We’re working to make this even better for our customers, and as we have done with location services, any app wishing to access contact data will require explicit user approval in a future software release.”

In a letter addressed to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook, Representatives Henry Waxman of California and G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, both Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, asked Apple to clarify its developer guidelines and the measures taken by the company to screen apps sold on its App Store.

The letter came after Path, a San Francisco startup that makes a Facebook-like social networking app, attracted widespread criticism after a Singaporean developer discovered that Path’s iPhone app had been quietly uploading his contacts’ names and phone numbers onto Path’s servers.

In the following days, other technology bloggers discovered that iPhone apps like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Foodspotting similarly uploaded user data — without permission, in some cases.

The Path incident “raises questions about whether Apple’s iOS app developer policies and practices may fall short when it comes to protecting the information of iPhone users and their contacts,” the letter said.

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