The majority of popular mobile apps now offer privacy policies, according to new research from the think tank Future of Privacy Forum.
Future of Privacy Forum reported on Wednesday that 53% of the most popular paid apps now have privacy policies. By contrast, a survey in January found that just 33% of paid apps had a policy governing the use of personal data; last May only 26% of paid mobile apps offered such policies.
Future of Privacy Forum director and co-chair Jules Polonetsky attributes the spike to recent pressure from government officials. "It sounds like the saber rattling from the Attorney General of California, and the FTC, has started to have some effect," Polonetsky says.
Earlier this year, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said she believes that mobile app developers must follow California's Online Privacy Protection Act, a 9-year-old law that requires online companies to post privacy policies if they collect "personally identifiable information" about state residents.
Personally identifiable information includes people's names, phone numbers, email address, or any data that can be used to contact or locate people. Harris also convinced Google, Apple, Amazon and companies with app marketplaces to require that developers post privacy policies if their apps collect personal data from users.
This February, the Federal Trade Commission
issued a critical report that said childrens' apps didn't provide enough information about their privacy practices.
In addition to pressure from the government, a few mobile app developers are facing litigation by consumers, due to well-publicized privacy glitches earlier this year. Among others, the apps Path and Hipster were accused of uploading users' address books without telling them.
For its study, the Future of Privacy Forum study examined 50 of the most popular apps (25 free and 25 paid) on each of three platforms: Apple's iOS App Store, Google Play and the Kindle Appstore. The survey, conducted last month, shows that 64% of paid apps for iOS, 48% of paid apps for Android and 48% of paid apps for Kindle have privacy policies.
84% of iOS free apps have privacy policies, as do 76% of free Android apps and 48% of free Kindle apps. Overall, 69% of free apps have privacy policies, but that figure is comparable to September, when a Future of Privacy Forum study found that 66% of free apps had privacy policies.
He adds that companies "put themselves on the hook and become legally accountable" by posting privacy policies. Companies who violate their privacy policies can be charged by the Federal Trade Commission with engaging in deceptive practices.
The report was unveiled on the eve of a meeting between the Commerce Department, online companies and advocates. The event -- the first in a series of "multi-stakeholder" privacy summits -- will address privacy guidelines for mobile apps.