Privacy Policies: California Attorney General Signs Agreement with Mobile App Providers

On February 22, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced a privacy agreement concerning mobile software applications with the six largest mobile application platform providers — Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard and Research In Motion. This agreement effectively creates regulatory standards for implementing privacy policies within the mobile software application industry.” (California Attorney General and Mobile Platform Providers Agree to Require Mobile Software Application Developers to Implement Privacy Policies by Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP) 

In a move designed to strengthen privacy protections for mobile users across the state, the California Attorney General recently signed an agreement with major developers requiring privacy policies – and improved access to them – for mobile applications that collect personal information. 

For your reference, here’s a brief overview of the agreement and what it means for mobile app companies: 

1. The agreement is intended to ensure compliance with existing California law:

“The global agreement is aimed at ensuring that $6.8 billion a year mobile app market is in compliance with the California Online Privacy Protection Act. The 2003 law requires commercial web sites and online services that collect personally-identifiable information about users to conspicuously post their privacy policy. Only about 5 percent of mobile apps offer a privacy policy, according to the Department of Justice.” (Technology Firms Agree to California AG’s Privacy Rules for Mobile Apps by Law & Industry Daily) 

2. Any app that collects personal data must post a privacy policy:

“The App Agreement says that, where required by law, an app that collects personal data from a user must conspicuously post a privacy policy or other statement describing the app’s privacy practices that provides clear and complete information regarding how personal data is collected, used and shared.” (Privacy in Principle: As California Goes, So Goes the Nation? by Tanya Forsheit) 

3. All parties involved in the mobile app industry must comply: 

“An important part of the agreement is the recognition that the Act applies to independent app developers as well as operators of commercial website and online services that sell and distribute them.” (Agreement with California Attorney General May Set Floor for Privacy Protections for Users of Mobile Applications by Barger & Wolen) 

4. California will enforce the new regulations through litigation:

“This agreement effectively creates regulatory standards for implementing privacy policies within the mobile software application industry. Harris allegedly will sue under California law to enforce these regulatory standards, which allegedly applies nationwide (wherever a single Californian may be affected by a mobile software application).” (California Attorney General and Mobile Platform Providers Agree to Require Mobile Software Application Developers to Implement Privacy Policies by Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP) 

5. The agreement essentially sets an industry-wide standard:

“A likely outcome of this agreement is that compliance with California’s Online Privacy Protection Act will become a minimum standard for the mobile application industry, because even those developers located outside the state of California will likely conclude that it is easier to have a single policy that meets California’s requirements, rather than risk inadvertent non-compliance.” (Privacy-on-the-Go: California Attorney General and Major Mobile Application Platforms Agree to Privacy Principles for Mobile Applications by Mintz Levin) 

6. No content restrictions or deadlines for implementation have been set:

“The Attorney General said that privacy policies must be understandable, but provided no specific guidance as to their content, leaving it up to ‘good faith.’ The Attorney General also did not set any sort of deadline for when app developers must be in compliance. (Recent Developments in Privacy Policy Disclosures for Mobile Applications by Bryan Cave) 

7. There’s more to come:

“The platform developers additionally agreed in the Joint Statement to continue to work the Attorney General toward developing best practices for protecting consumer privacy in the mobile application space and beyond. The group will convene again with the Attorney General within six months to continue their evaluation and assess progress in the industry.” (California Attorney General Announces Principles of Mobile Privacy; Mobile Platform Developers are Onboard by Fenwick & West LLP) 

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