FPF Study Results Show App Developers Heed Call for Privacy Policies


Future of Privacy Forum Study Results Show App Developers Heed Call for Privacy Policies

Future of Privacy Forum and Center for Democracy & Technology Release Best Practices for Mobile App Developers

WASHINGTON – A survey released today by the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) examined the most popular paid and free apps on leading app platforms, documenting which ones provided consumers with a privacy policy describing the apps’ data collection and use practices. The FPF study shows that the percentage of free apps with a privacy policy doubled on the iOS App Store platform, from 40% to 84%; the percentage of paid apps with privacy policies on the same platform increased by 4%, from 60% to 64%. On the Google Play platform, the percentage of free apps with a privacy policy started remarkably high at 70%, and increased to 76%.  The percentage of paid apps increased as well, from 30% to 48%. The study reveals that almost all of the leading apps that collect precise location information do provide consumers with a privacy policy. Notable exceptions, however, included Cut the Rope on Android OS and Fruit Ninja Lite on iOS, which collect location information about consumers, without providing an app privacy policy to let consumers know how their data is used and/or shared.By providing a privacy policy, companies become legally accountable for their practices and provide consumers with an opportunity to make informed decisions about whether to download an app.In an effort to provide application developers with the tools and resources needed to implement trustworthy data practices, including privacy policies, FPF and the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) released a publication titled Best Practices for Mobile Application Developers.

“Developers have access to tremendous amounts of very sensitive data about their customers,” said Justin Brookman, CDT’s Director of Consumer Privacy. “We’re offering these Best Practices guidelines to help well-meaning developers preserve user privacy without stifling the innovation and convenience offered by new platforms.”

Other findings from the new app privacy policy survey include:

  • Overall, 61.3% of the 150 apps examined had a privacy policy when offered across three app store platforms: iOS App Store, Google Play and Kindle Fire Appstore.
  • Similar to the findings from September 2011, the 75 free apps analyzed were more likely to have a privacy policy than the 75 paid apps.  69.3% of free apps and 53.3% of the paid apps had privacy policies.
  • To determine whether consumers could review how an app would use their data before downloading the app, the study focused on whether an app provided access to privacy policy information in or from the app store. 22.7% of free apps and 20% of paid apps in Google Play and the iOS App Store have access to the privacy policy at the app store promotion page.
  • 48% of free apps and 32% of paid apps on all platforms have access to the privacy policy in the app itself or via a link from within the app. If apps don’t provide access to a policy from the app, consumers are forced to search the Web to try to find the app’s policy.
  • 12 out of the 50 apps surveyed on the iOS App Store platform requested precise location information and 10 of those 12 had privacy policies. 14 out of the 50 apps surveyed on the Google Play platform requested precise location information and 10 of the 14 had privacy policies.

The Co-Chairs of the Future of Privacy Forum credit the efforts by the California Attorney General, the Federal Trade Commission and increasingly, from app platforms for the improvement in privacy disclosures to consumers.

Jules Polonetsky, Director and Co-Chair of the Future of Privacy Forum said:

“App developers are starting to get the message that access to consumer data is a privilege not a right.  Taking the time to document data collection and use practices is the first step to showing that you are a responsible company. Although providing a privacy policy is no silver bullet, the process of documenting data use and making oneself legally accountable is a critical first step to building consumer trust.”

FPF Founder and Co-Chair Christopher Wolf added:

“Enforcement activity by the FTC and the California Attorney General, as well as the efforts of the platform providers, are driving the significant progress we have seen by app developers to do the needed work to put privacy policies in place. The Administration’s multi-stakeholder process focusing on apps and launching in Washington this week can build on this progress to further ensure that consumers understand what they are getting when they download an app.”

FPF provides resources for developers, including tools to create privacy policies, at applicationprivacy.org.

Research for this report was led by FPF Legal & Policy Fellow Lia Sheena, and assisted by interns Rachel Coffin and John Alford.

For any questions, or to schedule an interview, please call Beth Sullivan at 202-550-4401 or email [email protected].

The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) is a Washington, DC based think tank that seeks to advance responsible data practices. The forum is led by Internet privacy experts Jules Polonetsky and Christopher Wolf and includes an advisory board comprised of leading figures from industry, academia, law and advocacy groups. 
About the Center for Democracy & Technology
The Center for Democracy & Technology is a non-profit public interest organization working to keep the Internet open, innovative, and free. With expertise in law, technology, and policy, CDT seeks practical solutions to enhance free expression and privacy in communications technologies. CDT is dedicated to building consensus among all parties interested in the future of the Internet and other new communications media.