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ICO warns on mobile app downloads

By Retail Technology | Thursday December 19 2013

UK data and privacy watchdog issues warning to consumers about the need for caution about the use of their personal information when downloading mobile apps this Christmas

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has today warned consumers to protect their personal information when downloading mobile apps, ahead of the busiest day of the year for app downloads. 
 
Last year 328 million apps were downloaded on Christmas Day alone and many people will have the latest tablet PC or smartphone at the top of their Christmas gift list this year. An online survey carried out by YouGov for the ICO this month found that 59% of adults in the UK have downloaded an app – a figure that is only likely to increase over the festive period. 

Concerns over app security and privacy
 
But the survey also found that 62% of people who have downloaded an app are concerned about the way apps can use their personal information. The survey found 49% of app users have decided not to download an app due to privacy concerns.
 
The ICO has now published some top tips to help consumers stay in control of their data when using mobile apps, along with guidance to help developers look after people’s information correctly.
 
Simon Rice, ICO principal technology policy advisor, said in a statement: “Apps do all sorts of weird and wonderful things, helping someone chat with their friends, find a local restaurant or see what’s on at their local cinema. However, they 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. 
 
“The survey published today shows people are clearly concerned about the privacy implications of this technology. Our tips aim to address this concern by showing people how they can stay in control of their personal information, while enjoying the benefits provided by the apps many of us will be downloading this Christmas.” 
 
The top tips for keeping personal information secure when using apps includes only downloading apps from official and trusted app stores and reading the information available about an app in the app store before downloading it to check you are happy about the personal information it will be using. It also advised users to uninstall apps they no longer use as well as using mobile security software to help keep the mobile device secure.

Helping developers address concerns
 
The ICO added that its guidance for app developers will help the developer community address the public’s concerns by demonstrating that they are looking after people’s information correctly and complying with the Data Protection Act. 
 
Rice added: “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.
 
“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. These are issues that must be considered at the start of the development process, but once addressed will help developers in the UK comply with the Data Protection Act and have the best chance of achieving commercial success.”

Small business owners alert
 
Security firm McAfee also today highlighted the dangers of fake festive mobile apps among the pitfalls consumers and small businesses alike should be on the look out for this Christmas. Scammers and hackers can use Christmas as an opportunity to disguise their malicious applications as festive shopping and gaming apps. 

It said that consumers attracted to free apps can unwittingly put personal and business information into the hands of criminals with many of these apps designed to redirect incoming calls and messages and steal personal information from unsuspecting users.

Samantha Swift, online security expert at McAfee, commented: “It is easy to get caught up in the many frantic activities of the holidays, but small business owners should be aware that cybercriminals are using this as an opportunity to create scams and malware to fool unsuspecting customers to hand over their personal information.
 
“As a small business it is important to understand the threats shoppers face to better protect your company and customer data from malicious online threats.”

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