A survey of over 1,200 mobile apps by 26 privacy regulators from across the world has shown that a high number of apps are accessing large amounts of personal information without adequately explaining how people’s data is being used.
The survey by the Global Privacy Enforcement Network (GPEN) examined the privacy information provided by 1,211 mobile apps. As a member of GPEN, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office examined 50 of the top apps released by UK developers.
The key findings of the research are as follows:
*85% of the apps surveyed failed to clearly explain how they were collecting, using and disclosing personal information
*More than half (59%) of the apps left users struggling to find basic privacy information
*Almost one-in-three apps appeared to request an excessive number of permissions to access additional personal information
*43% of the apps failed to tailor privacy communications to the small screen, either by providing information in a too small print or by hiding the information in lengthy privacy policies that required scrolling or clicking through multiple pages
Examples of good practice
The research did find examples of good practice, with some apps providing a basic explanation of how personal information is being used, including links to more detailed information if the individual wants to know more.
The regulators were also impressed by the use of just-in-time notifications on certain apps that informed users of the potential collection (or use) of personal data as it was about to happen. These approaches make it easier for people to understand how their information is being used and when.
ICO group manager for technology, Simon Rice, commented: “Apps are becoming central to our lives, so it’s important we understand how they work and what they are doing with our information. These results show that many app developers are still failing to provide this information in a way that is clear and understandable to the average consumer.”
Rice added: “The ICO and the other GPEN members will be writing to those developers where there is clear room for improvement. We will also be publishing guidance to explain the steps people can take to help protect their information when using mobile apps.”
The ICO has published its Privacy in Mobile Apps guidance to help app developers in the UK handle people’s information correctly and meet their requirements under the Data Protection Act 1998. The guidance includes advice on informing people how their information will be used.
Research carried out last year to support the guidance’s launch showed that 49% of app users have decided not to download an app due to privacy concerns.