The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued a warning to mobile phone and tablet owners to be on their guard against data-stealing app downloads over the festive period. The watchdog has also warned developers to ensure they adhere to data protection legislation.
With millions of devices expected to be activated after being given as gifts, eager owners will then rush to download new apps, with 328 million downloaded on Christmas Day last year, the ICO said.
However, despite this demand for apps, many users are concerned that they don’t know about the data they are giving up when they agree to terms and conditions, usually having not read the contract at all.
A survey by YouGov, commissioned by the ICO, found that 62 percent of people are concerned about this issue and 49 percent said they have not downloaded an app due to privacy concerns.
ICO principal policy advisor for technology Simon Rice said the findings underlined the importance of being aware of what sort of data you are handing over to an app and the company behind it.
“Apps often work by using personal information. This can include information you would not normally choose to give out to a stranger, such as the contact details of friends and relatives, and details of your location,” he noted.
To counter the risks this could pose the ICO has issued four pieces of guidance for device owners to bear in mind this Christmas.
- Only download apps from official and trusted app stores. Be extremely careful of using untrusted sources.
- Read the information available about an app in the app store before you download it. Check you are happy about the personal information it will be using.
- Have a regular clearout. Many of us have downloaded an app and only used it once. If you no longer use the app, uninstall it.
- Consider downloading mobile security software to help keep your device secure.
As well as warning consumers about the issues of privacy, the ICO also gave developers a reminder of their obligations to protect the user data they gather with a detailed document outlining the requirements around data protection.
“The app development industry is one of the UK’s fastest-growing industries, but our survey shows almost half of app users have rejected an app due to privacy concerns. It is important that developers tackle this issue by making sure their apps look after personal information correctly," he said.
“Our guidance will help them achieve this by explaining the legal requirements when using personal information. That includes how to obtain lawful consent, the measures required to keep people’s information secure and advice on carrying out routine testing and maintenance."
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