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Apple requiring privacy notices from app developers

The privacy labels on new apps and updates on the App Store have to list the data collected by developers and their partners. The notices resemble nutritional labels on food.

Apple has started requiring developers to post on the App Store privacy notices that list the personal data they collect through their apps.

The requirement, which went into effect Tuesday, means developers must publish the notice with new apps and app updates. Information provided with the app must include a list of the data collected by the developer and its partner, and whether they link the data to the user's identity.

Apple had already required developers to provide privacy policies with their apps. However, the company wants the new notices to offer a quick reference to data collection. The company has compared the notice to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Nutrition Facts label required on food. The FDA labels help consumers determine the nutritional value of food before purchasing.

Apple has specified 14 data categories developers must address where applicable. The list includes contact information, health and fitness, financial information, location, sensitive information, contacts, user content, browsing history, search history, identifiers, purchases, usage data and diagnostics.

Developers do not have to disclose all the information they collect. Apple has provided a narrow exception for data that app makers do not use for tracking or third-party advertising. However, developers would have to gather the information infrequently and in a manner that's obvious to users.

The company promised it would provide more privacy information on the App Store when it introduced iOS 14 earlier this year. Apple announced the specifics of the notice requirement in November.

Apple App Store notice
Apple now requires developers to provide a privacy notice with their apps.

Privacy advocates supported Apple's decision to make the collection of private data more transparent.

"While it is not an entire solution in and of itself, the privacy label is a very good step forward for consumers," said Pam Dixon, founder and executive director of the World Privacy Forum. "More will be needed, but this is a good step, and we support it."

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said a clear label significantly improved privacy protection on the App Store. Apple shouldn't stop there, however, he added.

"At least once a year, Apple should work with experts to audit the performance of its label requirement and make the results public," Chester said.

Apple will have to closely monitor developers' notices to ensure that they disclose all relevant information, Forrester Research analyst Heidi Shey said.

"Will consumers trust these self-disclosures, and by extension trust the Apple app ecosystem?" she said. "They have no reason not to, until there is an example ... of a major discrepancy between what an app says it is doing versus what it is actually doing."

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