MWC 2012: GSMA, Operators Back Mobile Privacy Guidlines

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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The GSMA along with Vodafone, Orange and other operators are pushing privacy rules intended to maintain users’ confidence in mobile applications

The GSM Association (GSMA), along with European mobile operators including Vodafone and Orange, has published a set of privacy guidelines for mobile applications aimed at building a sense of trust with users.

The Privacy Design Guidelines for Mobile Application Development, published at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona this week, comes on the heels of incidents in which mobile applications were found to be collecting more personal information than users realised.

Privacy iIncidents

Earlier this month application developers Hipster and Path issued apologies after admitting to obtaining users’ mobile address books without their permission, and released updates to improve security.

Also last month Apple confirmed it will require all iOS applications to ask the user’s permission to access iPhone address book data. The move followed pressure from authorities that are concerned because dozens of apps are accessing, transmitting and storing user data without permission.

In light of such incidents, as well as the well-publicised growth of malicious applications for Android, the GSMA’s privacy guidelines are intended to give users confidence about how applications are using their personal information, the group said.

The guidlines are first being implemented by operators, but this applies only to software they develop themselves. The operators are hoping that other players, including developers, advertisers, analytics firms and handset manufacturers will follow their lead.

Operators including Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom – Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, Telekom Austria Group, Telenor Group, TeliaSonera and Vodafone have begun implementing the guidelines.

User confidence

“In order to maintain the strong growth in both the sales and popularity of mobile apps, customers need to be confident that their privacy is protected when they use them,” said Stephen Deadman, group privacy officer of Vodafone, in a statement.

The guidelines are intended to help users understand what personal information an application may access, collect and use, what the information is being used for and why, and how the user can control the process.

The GSMA also recommends that social networking applications should make it easy for users to remove all their data from a service if they want to delete an account.

Google, Apple, Amazon, Research in Motion, HP and Microsoft last week agreed to their own set of privacy guidelines aimed at preventing applications from collecting data without user consent.

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