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ICO warns consumers about the need for caution when downloading mobile apps this Christmas

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The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is warning 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 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. This figure is likely to increase over the festive period.

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.

ICO Principal Policy Advisor for Technology, Simon Rice, said:

“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.”

Top tips for keeping your personal information secure when using apps:

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 clear-out. 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.

Make sure you erase any apps from the phone before you donate, resell or recycle an old device, as these may have to access to your personal information. You should be able to find a ‘factory reset’ option in the device settings.

The ICO’s 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.

Simon Rice continued:

“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.”

You can find out more about today’s guidance in a blog written by the ICO’s Simon Rice. The blog explains the reasons for the guidance, some of the key issues that app developers must consider and provides best practice solutions explaining how these issues can be addressed.




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