Apple tries to stop app developers from sharing user data on friends

By Sarah Frier and Mark Gurman | Bloomberg News

Apple changed its App Store rules last week to limit how developers use information about iPhone owners’ friends and other contacts, quietly closing a loophole that let app makers store and share data without many people’s consent.

The move cracks down on a practice that’s been employed for years. Developers ask users for access to their phone contacts, then use it for marketing and sometimes share or sell the information — without permission from the other people listed on those digital address books. On both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, the world’s largest smartphone operating systems, the tactic is sometimes used to juice growth and make money.

Sharing of friends’ data without their consent is what got Facebook into so much trouble when one of its outside developers gave information on millions of people to Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy. Apple has criticized the social network for that lapse and other missteps, while announcing new privacy updates to boost its reputation for safeguarding user data. The iPhone maker hasn’t drawn as much attention to the recent change to its App Store rules, though.

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As Apple’s annual developer conference got underway on June 4, the Cupertino-based company made many new pronouncements on stage, including new controls that limit tracking of web browsing. But the phone maker didn’t publicly mention updated App Store Review Guidelines that now bar developers from making databases of address book information they gather from iPhone users. Sharing and selling that database with third parties is also now forbidden. And an app can’t get a user’s contact list, say it’s being used for one thing, and then use it for something else — unless the developer gets consent again. Anyone caught breaking the rules may be banned.

IPhone contact lists contain phone numbers, email addresses and profile photos of family, friends, colleagues and other acquaintances. When users install apps and then consent, developers get dozens of potential data points on people’s friends. That’s a trove of information that developers have been able to use, beyond Apple’s control.

In the years following the launch of the App Store in 2008, contact-list abuse surfaced from time to time, and in 2012, Apple added a way for users to explicitly approve their contacts, photos, location information, and other data being uploaded by developers. Some apps, including Uber and Facebook, let users remove contacts that have been uploaded. Even so, there’s no mechanism to do that for all apps that have been installed on an iPhone.

Aside from that, Apple’s rules on contact lists have remained relatively consistent for a decade. Balancing user privacy with the needs of developers has helped the company build a profitable app ecosystem. Apple said last week that developers have generated $100 billion since the App Store launched. The company typically takes 30 percent of app revenue and runs search ads in its …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Business


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