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Friday, December 20, 2013

Consumers need to protect their personal information when using new mobile apps, warns ICO

The Information Commissioner’s Office, the independent UK authority responsible for promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals, has warned consumers to protect their personal information when installing new mobile apps.

Christmas Day is expected to be the busiest day of the year for app downloads: figures from mobile analytics specialists Flurry showed 328 million apps being downloaded on 25th December.

A UK-specific survey carried out by the ICO earlier this month found that 59% of adults in the UK had downloaded a mobile app, although 62% of these people were concerned about the way apps could use their personal information.

The ICO has published five ‘top tips’ to help consumers stay in control of their data when using mobile apps:

  1. Only download apps from official and trusted app stores. Be extremely careful of using untrusted sources.

  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Consider downloading mobile security software to help keep your device secure.
  5. 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.

As well as offering tips for consumers, the ICO has also published advice for app developers.

Simon Rice, the ICO’s Principal Policy Advisor for Technology, said “The app development industry is one of the UK’s fastest growing industries, but our survey shows almost half of app users have rejected an app due to privacy concerns. It is important that developers tackle this issue by making sure their apps look after personal information correctly. Our guidance will help them achieve this by explaining the legal requirements when using personal information. That includes how to obtain lawful consent, the measures required to keep people’s information secure and advice on carrying out routine testing and maintenance. These are issues that must be considered at the start of the development process, but once addressed will help developers in the UK comply with the Data Protection Act and have the best chance of achieving commercial success.”

[ICO blog; App Developer guidance (pdf)]

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