Calif. A.G. Threatens App Developers With Fines


California's top law enforcement official said this week that she is warning nearly 100 app developers that they are violating a state law requiring them to post conspicuous privacy policies.

Developers that don't start offering privacy policies in the next 30 days could face fines of $2,500 per download, Attorney General Kamala Harris said. She added that her office plans to send warnings to the most popular apps available on mobile platforms.

A 2003 law, the California Online Privacy Protection Act, says commercial Web site operators that collect personally identifiable information from state residents must conspicuously display links to privacy policies. While that law predates smartphone apps, Harris says she believes it applies to mobile apps.

Earlier this month, she took to Twitter to criticize United Airlines for failing to include a privacy policy in its app. "Fabulous app, @United Airlines, but where is your app's privacy policy." she tweeted.

United offers a privacy policy available at its Web site, but Harris' office says that a privacy policy at a Web site is only sufficient if the site is "reasonable accessible" to users within the app.

United reportedly said it is taking steps to ensure that it complies with California's privacy law.

Harris hasn't yet named the companies she is targeting, but OpenTable, Delta and United Airlines are believed to be among them, according to press reports.

In February, Harris convinced six companies with app marketplaces -- Google, Apple, Research in Motion, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Amazon -- to say they will require that apps available on their platforms have privacy policies. Several months later, Facebook agreed to do the same.

Jules Polonetsky, director and co-chair of the Future of Privacy Forum, said that Apple's iOS6 makes it easier than before to provide a privacy link. "The new App Store now provides a very visible privacy tab for consumers," he says. "Now that iOS6 has been out for some time, app developers don't have any reason to delay in setting up a policy."

A study by the Future of Privacy Forum in June found that 61% of the most popular apps had privacy policies.


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