Privacy commissioner scrutinises mobile apps

Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim has begun a privacy sweep of the 50 most popular apps in Australia to see why they collect personal information and what is done with the data.

According to Pilgrim, mobile apps were chosen as the focus of the sweep because of the privacy implications they have for consumers. He said many apps collect a "great deal" of personal information about consumers and some of this information is shared with third parties.

Pilgrim did not name the apps but said the results would be published later in 2014.

He added that the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) has received nearly 3,000 privacy complaints since May 2013, an increase of 50 per cent on the same period in 2012.

Last week, the New South Wales Privacy Commissioner Doctor, Elizabeth Coombs, urged Australians to check the privacy policy of mobile apps before they download the app and discover their personal information is being “skimmed off” by third parties.

Speaking to Techworld Australia, Coombs said people need to adopt Privacy by Design and “take control” from the onset with mobile apps.

Privacy by Design is about embedding privacy into IT, business practices and networked infrastructures right from the outset.

“There is a report by App Authority that found that 31 per cent of free apps access user’s content lists or address books. The report is very interesting because it makes the point that app developers generate additional revenue by collecting your data with advertising networks and research companies,” she said.

“People aren't aware that in return for something like a free app, there is personal information being skimmed off. If in doubt with apps, be very cautious about downloading it.”

Coombs advised people to delete the apps you are not using.

"While you may not be using them, they may be harvesting personal information that you are updating on your phone.”

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Techworld Australia on Twitter: @Techworld_AU

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon