Canada’s privacy czar calls on tech giants to make app privacy policies mandatory

“To compensate for the shorter amortization period and the limits on cancellation fees, Canadian wireless providers increased the price of monthly plans,” a Conference Board report says.
The federal privacy commissioner is calling on tech giants to make it mandatory for app developers to post details of their privacy polices prior to download if the app collects any information from the user. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Evan Vucci

TORONTO – The federal privacy commissioner is calling on tech giants to make it mandatory for app developers to post details of their privacy polices prior to download if the app collects any information from the user.

In an open letter addressed to seven companies – including Apple, Google and BlackBerry – Daniel Therrien, Canada’s privacy watchdog, said users should have access to privacy information prior to downloading apps in order to decide whether they are comfortable with the app’s data collection policies.

“Links to privacy policies on the app marketplace appear to be optional but we think developers that collect personal information should be required to provide a link. It’s why we’re calling on app marketplaces to take this next step,” Therrien said in a press release.

“Without this information, it’s difficult for individuals to provide meaningful consent.”

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The letter, aimed at companies with app marketplaces, is signed by 22 international privacy czars, including officials from Australia, Finland, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the U.K.

READ MORE: Google and Apple focus on encryption, security

The recommendation comes on the heels of a mobile app privacy sweep conducted by Canada’s privacy commissioner and other data protection agencies last year.

The study examined 1,211 mobile apps and found 85 per cent failed to clearly outline how they would collect, use or disclose user data.

“Given the wide-range and potential sensitivity of the data stored in mobile devices, we firmly believe that privacy practice information (for example, privacy policy links) should be required (and not optional) for apps that collect data in and through mobile devices within an app marketplace store,” read the letter.

Mobile security is top of mind for Canadian users

According to a study released Thursday by security firm Symantec, 77 per cent of Canadians worry about breaches of their financial information and 53 per cent are concerned about their contact information being leaked.

However, the security firm also found some concerning statistics about Canadians’ awareness about app security.

“Most Canadians have little idea of what they are actually agreeing to when agreeing to app downloading terms,” read the Symantec study.

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“Despite this obvious misunderstanding of common app practices only 28 per cent of Canadians admit they don’t really understand what they agree to when downloading an app.”

Additionally, 53 per cent of Canadians surveyed were unaware that apps can track their physical location and 85 per cent did not realize that a free app could modify their mobile browser.

But interestingly, Symantec found that only 27 per cent of consumers worldwide believe that by downloading an app they allow it to access their personal information and photos.

Users can take steps to educate themselves about privacy policies

While app developers aren’t required to post privacy information in app marketplaces, some do.

For example, Facebook offers users the chance to review the privacy on its Messenger app on Apple’s App Store, the Google Play store and BlackBerry’s App World store.

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To see if there is a privacy policy attached to an app before you download it, scroll down to the bottom of the page on the app store and look for the section called “Privacy Policy.”

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Symantec also offers a tool called “App Advisor,” available with its Norton Mobile Security software, which automatically scans apps downloaded from the Google Play store to check for security risks.

The tool alerts users if the app has potential risks, like leaking your personal information or installing adware. However, the feature is only compatible apps downloaded from the Google Play store.

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