The top-selling iPhone app is the ubiquitous Angry Birds. But this paid mobile app is not all fun and games. While you’re busy mindlessly slinging canaries at snorting piggies, did you realize this ingenious app is busy sucking up your personal information? That’s right. And Angry Birds isn’t the only app that does this. Say you download a free Bible app or software that turns your Android into a flashlight. Guess what? These innocent bits of software are recording personal information like your location, gender and cell phone number. Spooky, huh? As the web goes mobile, privacy is going public. This shift has brought consumers into a gray legal area where current privacy protections are not keeping up with technology.
Sure, the makers of Angry Birds, Rovio Entertainment, discloses its information collection practices in a 3,358-word policy posted on its Website. But, hey, who’s gonna read that?
Thankfully, this may be beginning to change. Last February, Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General for the state of California, got six top operators of mobile app platforms to agree they would distribute only mobile applications with privacy policies that consumers could review before downloading. In Europe, lawmakers in Brussels are planning to bring Web businesses for the first time under stringent data protection rules and to give consumers new legal powers, the better to control the information that is being collected on them.
Still, Amazon, Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Research in Motion, whose distribution platforms make up the bulk of the American mobile app market––these apps have no privacy policies.
It’s all very understandable. Remember: mobile apps are still in the wild, wild west where anything goes and invasion of privacy is just collateral damage. But with more than 1 million mobile apps available to download––many of which are free––the temptation to fill up your smartphone with this information-robbing software is likely to continue. So, you just keep catapulting those pigeons at those piglets. And we advertisers will just keep mining your data. Sounds fair to me.