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Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris puts mobile apps on notice about privacy [Updated]

October 30, 2012|By Jessica Guynn | This story has been updated, as indicated below.
  • California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris this week began putting top mobile app makers on notice that they will be held accountable for how they handle Californians' personal information.
California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris this week began putting top mobile… (Patrick T. Fallon / Los Angeles…)

California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris this week began putting top mobile app makers on notice that they will be held accountable for how they handle Californians' personal information.

The state's top cop has sent out notices to 100 mobile apps that don't have a written privacy policy posted on their mobile apps that explains what information the app collects and shares.

Harris initially targeted the most popular mobile apps, among them Open Table and apps for Delta and United Airlines.

[Updated 2:24 p.m. Oct. 30: United issued a statement that it has a privacy policy in place that can be viewed on its website. "We are taking all steps necessary and appropriate to ensure compliance with California law as it relates to our mobile app," the company said in the statement.

Delta released a statement that said: "We have received the letter from the Attorney General and intend to provide the requested information."]

Open Table did not respond to requests for comment.

The companies were given 30 days to post a "conspicuous" privacy policy or face penalties of as much as $2,500 every time a Californian downloads an app that does not comply with California law.

"Protecting the privacy of online consumers is a serious law enforcement matter," Harris said in a written statement. "We have worked hard to ensure that app developers are aware of their legal obligations to respect the privacy of Californians, but it is critical that we take all necessary steps to enforce California’s privacy laws."

Harris is looking to close a privacy loophole with the explosion in the use of mobile devices to access the Web. She is extending privacy protections required by state law for personal computers to smartphones and tablets.

She has secured the voluntary cooperation of industry leaders including Facebook. Harris does not technically have the authority to write new rules for mobile apps. Instead, she's broadly interpreting a 2004 state law that requires "online services" that collect personal information from consumers to have privacy policies.

Last February, her office brokered a deal with six of the largest companies running mobile app stores. Under the deal, Apple, Google, Amazon.com, Microsoft, Research in Motion and Hewlett-Packard each agreed to post information on how their mobile apps collect and share consumer data.

Even though the mandate affects only apps that collect personal information from Californians, Harris' efforts have reached farther.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in June, Travis LeBlanc, the state's special assistant attorney general for technology, said California would give app makers time to craft a privacy policy and fall into line with California law.

"We are still in the phase of raising awareness," LeBlanc said at the time. "We don't want to squelch innovation. But there will be a point at which we take significant actions."

ALSO:

Facebook to require privacy policies for all apps in App Center

State's top cop: Where is United Airlines' app's privacy policy?

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, tech giants agree on mobile app privacy

Follow me on Twitter @jguynn


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