In the midst of all the recent attention on mobile apps and their privacy challenges, BlackBerry has unveiled a new “privacy notice” service that alerts customers about apps that “don’t clearly or adequately inform users about how the app is accessing and possibly managing customers’ data.” According to BlackBerry, these notices will “provide information about an application's behavior in order for customers to make an informed decision about whether to continue using the app.” In addition, the notices will provide information to users on how to remove the app.
As an example, BlackBerry issued its first “privacy notice” to NumberBook, a caller ID app. After conducting an investigation into the app, BlackBerry determined that in addition to identifying callers, NumberBook, unbeknownst to the user, was collecting the user’s contact list and GPS location, and had the ability to send text messages from the user’s device. This did not comply with BlackBerry’s privacy and mobile app guidelines because it did not provide sufficient notification to users about what information was uploaded from their device or how it was used or shared with third parties, nor did it seek consent from the user’s contacts before it disclosed their phone numbers to other NumberBook users. So BlackBerry removed the app from its App World store and issued an alert to BlackBerry owners who had previously downloaded the app.
BlackBerry’s new “privacy notice” service offers a technical solution designed to meet the increasing demand from regulators that apps provide better disclosures to consumers about the app’s privacy practices. Other companies, such as Facebook, have opted to respond to this increasing demand from regulators by agreeing to participate in the “Ad Choices” self-regulatory program, which applies to both mobile web and mobile app advertisements. Interestingly, BlackBerry's service was unveiled the same day that the FTC released its latest report on mobile privacy disclosures, which we previously covered here. As regulatory pressure continues to build from both the FTC and the states, namely California, it will be interesting to see how other app developers and platform providers in the mobile space will respond.