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Your Android phone is about as personal as a device can get, storing your contacts and photos, accessing your email and even your bank statement. As more services orient personalization around your smartphone, privacy concerns continue to be raised. The recent Path debacle was a mere microcosm of what’s taking place at the app level, forcing iOS to change their app permissions after it was discovered personal address books were being harvested by Path’s app. And while iOS had to update its entire App Store process, the Android Market already had a solution in place.
Unlike Apple’s system, which allows apps to access your contacts without a prompt or explicit permission, Android apps are required to list requested permissions in a dialogue box before you even install the app. It’s a clear-cut way to disclose what parts of your smartphone an app wants to access, and if an app changes permissions in a new version it’s automatically marked for a manual update (to avoid sneaking in new permissions without the user’s knowledge).
Keeping kids safe
Android may have dodged a bullet with app download permissions, but they’ll have to improve disclosures to parents about personal information collected on children. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission sent out a recommendation this week in a report based on a survey of mobile apps for kids. “Right now, it is almost impossible to figure out which apps collect data and what they do with it,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said. Companies must “provide easily accessible, basic information, so that parents can make informed decisions about the apps their kids use.”
It’s an effort to protect underage smartphone users, who are downloading mobile apps that tap into personal data. This data could include location, phone number and contact lists, all of which can be shared with third parties for marketing or recommendations. Android has always been a more accessible ecosystem than its competitors, and Google assures the FTC their report is being reviewed. Google currently offers parental controls and best practices for app developers, but we may soon see notices of parental consent for mobile users under the age of 13.