California Cracks Down On Privacy Policies
October 31, 2012

California Attorney General Warns App Developers On Privacy Policies

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Privacy policies are boring affairs. They´re often written to prevent their misuse and stand up in a court of law. As such, they´re often very“¦wordy and can be quite a chore to get through. However, they´re becoming a part of our daily lives. With so much of our information living “on the grid” or “in the cloud,” and so much of our daily behaviors being monitored by mobile phones, companies (and specifically app developers) have had to write up these things to give us a heads up, at the very least.

Thanks to the California Online Privacy Protection Act (OPPA), any app developer with users in the Golden State must clearly post their privacy policy in the app. To make sure this is happening, the California Attorney General´s office is cracking down on as many as 100 mobile app developers, including the makers of the apps for United and Delta airlines and OpenTable, reports Joel Rosenblatt and Douglas MacMillan of Bloomberg News.

According to Bloomberg, California Attorney General Kamala Harris sent out these letters, informing the developers that they have 30 days to make their privacy policies readily accessible online. These policies can´t exist solely on the Internet, however, and must be available within the app and elsewhere.

“Protecting the privacy of online consumers is a serious law enforcement matter,” explained Harris in a emailed statement to Bloomberg.

“We have worked hard to ensure that app developers are aware of their legal obligations to respect the privacy of Californians, but it is critical that we take all necessary steps to enforce California´s privacy laws.”

Harris said in February she´d begin work to bring these online companies and mobile app developers in line with California law. As the online and mobile industries grow, it´s become increasingly important to enforce these kinds of laws.

United has already responded to these warnings, noting that they already have their policies posted online.

"We are committed to protecting our customers' data and personally identifiable information," said a company spokesperson in a statement to The Hill's Brendan Sasso.

"We are taking all steps necessary and appropriate to ensure compliance with California law as it relates to our mobile app."

Delta only said they had received the letter and that they plan to “provide the requested information” to the Attorney General´s office.

OpenTable, a popular restaurant reservation service built into Apple´s Siri, declined to offer comment.

Should these companies be found to be in violation of the California Online Privacy Protection Act, they will be fined $2,500 for every violation.

It´s not only mobile apps which are in danger here, said Harris. Any online company who collects information from their California customers are also in danger of receiving a letter from Harris and facing a stiff fine. While these companies have likely already received their letters from the Attorney General´s this week, it´s left to be seen if any of them are in violation of the privacy policy act.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department suggests there´s nothing to be worried about, however, telling the San Francisco Chronicle they have no reason to believe any company has done anything illegal with the information they´ve collected.