Apple, Google, Microsoft Agree To California Mobile Privacy Protection Standards

Apple, Google and Microsoft are among a half dozen mobile application platform providers that have agreed to privacy principles established in California to protect consumers, state Attorney General Kamala Harris said Wednesday.

The companies, which also included Amazon, Hewlett-Packard and Research In Motion, agreed to ensure that mobile applications display privacy policies before the apps are downloaded to a smartphone, tablet or other mobile device, Harris said in a statement. Collectively, the companies account for the majority of the mobile app market.

The California Only Privacy Protection Act requires mobile apps that collect personal information to have a privacy policy. Despite the requirement, the majority of apps sold today do not have such a policy, according to Harris. In addition, consumers typically see the privacy policy after the app is downloaded.

"Your personal privacy should not be the cost of using mobile apps, but all too often it is," Harris said.

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Developers who do not comply with California privacy laws can be prosecuted under the state's Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law. More than 50,000 developers have created mobile applications on the leading platforms. In four years, the market is expected to rise from $6.8 billion to $25 billion.

In California, privacy policies are required to disclose how personal data is collected, used and shared. Harris said the companies agreeing to the privacy protocol are currently working to implement it.

Google said its Android mobile operating system has a permissions system that tells consumers what data an app can access and requires user approval before installation. "Coupled with the announced principles, which we expect to complete in the coming weeks, consumers will have even more ways to make informed decisions when it comes to their privacy," the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Harris' announcement was lauded by the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington, D.C., think tank dedicated to data privacy. "The California agreement will ensure that consumers are protected and that the app environment continues to flourish," Jules Polonetsky, director of the forum, said in a statement.

A recent forum survey showed that only a third of mobile apps provides users with any type of privacy policy.