Privacy? There’s an app for that – by “Stephen D”

As evidenced by the recent series of Apple commercials which state that “There’s an app for that,” the market for applications is skyrocketing.  Recently, the iPhone app store approved the 100,000th application.  While these applications may increase the functionality of these services, they create a huge increase in breaches of privacy.  Recently, the iPhone game developer Storm8, which is responsible for the two popular games Vampires Live and iMobsters, was sued for allegedly collecting phone numbers of iPhone gamers without their consent.  This lawsuit states that the games included “malicious software code” that transmits the phone numbers of anyone who plays the game back to Storm8.  The company claims that this was a “bug.”  The most concerning part of this incident is not that phone numbers were stolen (though that is a valid concern), but that Storm8’s developers were able to get “malicious software code” past Apple’s app store approval process.  While phone numbers are relatively benign, it’s possible that a more deviant software designer could get more malicious code past this approval process; for example, many customers store email addresses and passwords on their iPhone.  A hacker with access to these, though a corrupt app, could easily hack into someone’s email account steal their identity.  Similarly to the iPhone, Facebook also has a sizeable number applications.  These applications also create gaps in privacy.  For instance, many of Facebook’s online quizzes are popular.  However, in order to take these quizzes, users must allow these applications to access their profiles, which contain lots of personal information.  Additionally, some of these online quizzes try to lure users into giving away valuable data.  One online quiz asked not only for a person’s middle name, but also for their mother’s maiden name.  All of these new apps, both in Facebook and the iPhone, come at the cost of security.

So who is responsible for these apps?  Since Facebook and Apple both closely regulate their processes of approval, it seems obvious that Facebook and Apple should be responsible for this.  However, that does not necessarily mean that they should be held liable.  Facebook has a stronger legal stance with this respect, as the first time a customer wants to use any Facebook application, they have to agree to a privacy policy, which states that this application is authorized to access all their data.  Similarly, I would recommend that Apple have a comparable agreement when downloading apps, in order to put the responsibility on the developers.  However, Apple and Facebook should keep a close eye on this issue, to avoid bad publicity.

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