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Harris Pushes Mobile App Privacy

California Attorney General Kamala Harris offers a "carrot and stick" approach for the mobile app community on consumer privacy.

by / April 10, 2013

Today, at a San Francisco workshop on “The Future of Privacy + Innovation in California: A Workshop for App Developers,” California Attorney General (AG) Kamala Harris offered praise to big platforms for mobile applications like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, HP, Microsoft and RIM, who participated in and agreed to a joint statement of principles on consumer privacy. At the same time, she warned companies with mobile sites like Delta Airlines, who failed to comply with California law requiring privacy notices in its applications despite receiving a warning letter with a 30-day cure period.  In December 2012, the California Attorney General sued Delta Airlines for failing to include privacy notices in its mobile apps.

This self-acknowledged “carrot and stick approach” is deliberate, according to Harris' keynote remarks today. The AG went to great lengths to praise the innovative atmosphere of California and to acknowledge its importance in the country’s economic development and world politics. As an example, she mentioned Twitter with its then-40 employees helping impact the Arab Spring on the other side of the world. Having said that, she made it clear that innovation must be balanced with the legitimate privacy concerns of mobile application users. “Respect privacy and honor your users who have consumer rights,” she said.

Harris challenged mobile app developers to create tools to protect user privacy and to build them into the business process up front. She encouraged app developers to use technology to help consumers learn how to safeguard their personally identifiable information. As an example, Harris mentioned that she flies frequently in her job and she does not understand how planes fly, but she does know where the exit rows are and to place her own oxygen mask on before assisting a child sitting next to her. Similarly, she encouraged app developers to help consumers protect their information easily.

She emphasized three tasks:
1. Work together with the AG’s office to give users more information on how technology works.
2. Don't stop innovation but give users information and let them make choices about what information they consent to provide in exchange for having the mobile application.
3. Give the user a tool to make his or her choice easily.

In the first panel that followed, it was emphasized that mobile app users should build privacy into their products during the business process in order to enhance consumer confidence. Platform providers have agreed to link their app’s privacy policy in their storefronts so users can see it before they buy or obtain the app for free. Finally, the AG’s office recommended that mobile app developers review the office’s “Privacy on the Go: Recommendations for the Mobile Ecosystem,” a best practices guide available online.

This article originally appeared on Photo courtesy of the California Office of the Attorney General.

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Rachelle Chong Columnist,

Rachelle Chong is a nationally known expert on telecommunications, broadband, wireless communications, cable, digital literacy, public safety communications, renewable energy and smart grid policy. She is a former Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (Clinton appointee) and the California Public Utilities Commission (Schwarzenegger appointee). Prior to that, she has been Vice President, Government Affairs for Comcast California Region, Special Counsel for the CA Technology Agency, a partner at two international law firms (Graham & James and Coudert Brothers), and an entrepreneur. Rachelle is delighted to brush off her Journalism degree from Cal Berkeley, and serve as a columnist for Techwire, focusing on federal policies and the San Francisco and Silicon Valley tech/telecom beats.

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