California Stiffens App Privacy Standards

California’s attorney general, fueled by concerns over the sneakiness of apps such as iOS social networking app Path, has stepped into the fray. The state is requiring six major mobile app vendors to provide a privacy policy as part of the initial download process.

The agreement with Attorney General Kamala D. Harris calls for app buyers to see prominent and easy-to-understand privacy disclosures–and have the opportunity to opt-in–before downloading apps from Apple, Google, Microsoft, RIM, Amazon and HP. Though the pact will bring the process in compliance with state law, it will apply to app developers the world over. Harris said the six companies account for 95 percent of the apps distributed worldwide. quotes Harris saying:

What this will do is require those (mobile app developers) who collect personal information to let people know what they are doing with that information.

It also quotes  entrepreneur Mitch Kapor, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and an informal tech adviser to the attorney general, as saying:

A big impact of the agreement is a clarification of what’s fair territory and what’s foul territory” for mobile app developers. (Mobile app developers) have not been paying attention to this issue. They will now pay attention to this issue. The result of that is that there will now be privacy infractions that will never happen.

Business Insider’s Matt Rosoff, though, thinks the whole plan is nuts because users don’t read privacy policies anyway. He maintains it will increase employment for lawyers because developers will have to hire them to write the policies, which will drive up development costs.

Meanwhile, the White House unveiled its own online privacy proposal, calling for a simple “one click” setting on Web browsers to help consumers opt out of online tracking of their browsing.

And Harris has joined 35 other attorneys general in protesting the privacy policy that Google plans to roll out, which will share information among all its services, even when users provide it to a single service.