Regulator’s advice on app privacy concerns

December 23rd 2013

Not surprisingly, Christmas Day is the busiest day of the year for app download, prompting he body responsbile for regulating data protection in the UK to warn consumers to ensure their personal information is protected when downloading apps on their smartphones or tablets.

For information and advice abouit safe use of smartphones and tablets, click here

According to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), 328 million apps were downloaded on Christmas Day last year, and with many people having the latest tablet PC or smartphone at the top of their Christmas list (including some of the new wave of low-cost models), this year's figure is expected to be even higher. An online survey carried out for the ICO by YouGov this month indicates that 59% of adults in the UK have downloaded an app, a number likely to increase over the festive brreak.

The survey also revealed that 62% of people who have downloaded an app are concerned about the way apps can use their personal information, with 49% of app users deciding not to download an app due to concerns.

The ICO has published a set of tips to help consumers stay in control of their data when using mobile apps, as well as guidance to help developers look after people’s information correctly.

Simon Rice, the ICO's Principal Policy Advisor for Technology, said: “Apps do all sorts of weird and wonderful things, helping someone chat with their friends, find a local restaurant or see what’s on at their local cinema. However, they often work by using personal information. This can include information you would not normally choose to give out to a stranger, such as the contact details of friends and relatives and details of your location." Mr Rice continued: “The survey published today shows people are clearly concerned about the privacy implications of this technology. Our tips aim to address this concern by showing people how they can stay in control of their personal information, while enjoying the benefits provided by the apps many of us will be downloading this Christmas.”

The tips for keeping your personal information secure when using apps, are as follows :

– Download apps only from official and trusted app stores. Be extremely careful of using untrusted sources.
– Read the information available about an app in the app store before you download it. Check you are happy about the personal information it will be using.
– Have a regular clear-out. Many of us have downloaded an app and only used it once. If you no longer use the app, uninstall it.
– Consider downloading mobile security software to help keep your device secure.
–  Make sure you erase any apps from the phone before you donate, resell or recycle an old device, as these may have to access to your personal information. You should be able to find a ‘factory reset’ option in the device settings.

The ICO’s guidance for app developers will help the developer community address the public’s concerns by demonstrating that they are looking after people’s information correctly and complying with the Data Protection Act. App developers and consumers can find out more about the guidance in a blog written by Simon Rice, explaining the reasons for the guidance, some of the key issues that app developers must consider and provides best practice solutions explaining how these issues can be addressed.

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