Google's New App Store Privacy Practices Under Fresh Scrutiny
February 15, 2013
By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer
A recent development in which an Australian software developer said Google (News - Alert) was providing him with the personal information of everyone who bought his mobile app has sparked a fresh round of scrutiny over Google's privacy policies, according to new reports. Perhaps more distressingly, the exact nature of the transmitted information has been revealed as well, and it has nothing to do with software glitches.
The information Google was passing on, which included full names and e-mail addresses as well as some information about buyers' postal codes, was actually in accordance with Google's standard policies, both for its app store and for Google Wallet itself. The shock came largely as a result of Google not telling people about its plans for the dissemination of users' information, according to privacy watchdogs. Marc Rotenberg, the Electronic Privacy Information Center's executive director, said that Google had essentially “buried” notice about the use of personal information in fine print rather than put it up front and get the express consent of the users.
This isn't the first time Google has come under fire for issues related to privacy. Back in August, Google paid out $22.5 million in fines regarding bypassing privacy settings in Apple's Safari browser. In 2011, it faced a similar investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC (News - Alert)) regarding its Buzz social networking service, which has since been shut down. While Google asserts that it's performed according to the letter of its agreement, releasing a statement which said that “Google Wallet shares the information needed to process transactions, and this is clearly stated in the Google Wallet Privacy Notice,” others aren't so sure. Rotenberg, for his part, believes that Google may be violating its earlier settlement with the FTC.
Issues of privacy practices have been part of the landscape for some time now, as companies like Google and Facebook (News - Alert) have found for some time now. While, indeed, some information is necessary so that companies can handle things like refunds, some software developers are finding themselves concerned about Google's privacy policies as well. Barry Schwartz, editor of the “Marketing Land” blog and an app developer himself, expresses the concern well, saying “I want to be able to service my customers, and yes, they are my customers, not Google's and not Apple's (News - Alert) customers. They download our products.”
Schwartz may have the best point of all in this discussion. App developers should be concerned most of all; if users start getting gunshy about using app stores because of the level of personal information that's being tossed around, that's going to ultimately hurt sales. Progressively fewer people will be willing to hand over all that information just for a new game or a new way to track sales or the like, and that's not only going to hurt the users, who will miss out on the possibilities that mobile apps represent, but also the developers and the owners of the app stores themselves, who will find themselves without an audience.
There are potential solutions here—some believe that simple pop-ups explaining exactly what's going to the developer may be the best way to approach the problem, while others believe the issue is just to take less personal information total—but regardless of what solution is actually taken, it's clear that something needs to be done before the mobile device movement fizzles into a cloud of mistrust.
Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli