Apple app privacy labels are here – and a big step forward

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From today, the applications in Mac and iOS app stores will display mandatory labels which provide an overview of their privacy policies. Think of it as a kind of “nutritional value” for applications. It’s Apple’s most visible decision to date: providing you with easy-to-understand details about what data each app collects and accesses, and what they do with it.

The idea of ​​developing privacy or security labels for laymen is not new. In the early 2010s, university researchers had already developed mobile app privacy label prototypes. More recently, countries like Finland, Singapore and the UK have started promoting security-focused labels for IoT products. But Apple is apparently the first global tech giant to embrace and promote the tactic so widely.

“Apple’s approach looks very promising, but it’s unclear how many user tests were required,” says Lorrie Cranor, director of Carnegie Mellon’s usable privacy and security lab. “As it rolls out with real apps and real users, it will be interesting to see what works and what doesn’t: if developers understand how to accurately fill in the information, if they actually say the truth and if consumers understand what it means. all open questions. “

Courtesy of Apple

The labels have three categories: “Data used to track you,” “Data related to you,” and “Data not related to you,” with bullet points for each detailing what the app has under its hood. A tag can reveal that an app wants to collect your location data, financial information, and contact details, and associates all of this with a working account or identifiers like your device’s ID number. The label can also show that the app goes one step further and shares this information with other companies to track you on their websites and services as well.

Many apps that have already submitted information will see their labels online today, but it will take some time to become universal. Privacy details are only required after a developer submits a new app or update to Apple for review, and many apps have infrequent update cycles. Apple says, however, that some developers have proactively added the information anyway, perhaps to avoid the appearance of holding something back.

In the reality of today’s application landscape, it’s hard to find consumer software that doesn’t do at least a little bit of linking and tracking. Privacy labels will help make this point stand out, but this ubiquity can also make it difficult to find something actionable in the information. And while providing data for labels is now mandatory in the iOS and macOS App Stores, it’s also the developer’s job to provide factual information and revise it over time.

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