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Why You Need a Mobile App Privacy Policy

mobile-app-privacyPlatforms like the iOS App Store and Google Play have opened up a world of opportunity to app developers.  In a matter of just a few weeks it’s possible to have a live mobile app that’s available for download by millions of customers all over the world.  The app business is certainly one of the lowest barrier-to-entry businesses out there, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t have to worry about the legal issues facing every other type of business.

One particularly important issue related to apps and websites these days is privacy.  A lot of app developers fail to consider mobile app privacy issues when developing their apps. This can be a costly mistake, with some app developers being penalized severely for privacy violations.  This post lays out the importance of having a mobile app privacy policy to prevent this from happening to you.

Why You Need a Mobile App Privacy Policy

Any website or mobile app that collects personally identifiable information, or PII, from its users is best off having a privacy policy in effect. PII includes a broad range of information. Everything including users’ names, emails, phone numbers, addresses, locations, ages, birthdays, and more could be considered PII.

If your app uses or collects any of those data types from users and you do not have a privacy policy , you may be in violation of the law.  Although there is not yet a federal law governing this issue, several states including California have made it mandatory to have a privacy policy if your app collects PII from users.  Even if you are not located in California, there’s a good chance some of your users will be, meaning you would fall within the reach of this law.

General Mobile App Privacy Policy Requirements

Your privacy policy must lay out exactly what information is collected and how it is used.  The basic idea is that you need to inform people about what information they are disclosing about themselves, and for what purpose.  People should have the right to know what will happen to their personal information if they share it via your app.

Here are the 5 primary requirements that you should think about when creating a mobile app privacy policy:

  1. Disclose what personal information is collected through use of your app
  2. State how that information is used and whether it is shared with other parties
  3. Explain the process by which users can review their information or make changes
  4. List the effective date and any modifications to the policy since then
  5. Display your contact information for questions or concerns related to privacy issues

There may be additional things to consider, depending on the specific functionality of your app and what data is being collected.  But this list of 5 mobile app privacy policy requirements is a good place to start.

Children and Your Mobile App Privacy Policy

Many mobile apps, particularly games, are likely to attract a younger audience.  If your app falls within this category, you absolutely need to take privacy issues very seriously.

The FCC has imposed huge fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars for violations of COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.  Even some smaller app companies have been hit with penalties.  There are very strict mobile app privacy requirements if your app is likely to attract children under 13 as users because protecting children is a major concern in our society.

Abiding by the COPPA regulations is a major burden, which is why large companies like Facebook and Twitter require users to be at least 13 years of age to sign up.  Meeting the COPPA requirements is likely too difficult a task for small companies or solo app developers, so if your app would tend to attract users of a younger age in any way, it’s best to avoid collecting any personal information from your users.

How to Create a Mobile App Privacy Policy

You could create your own mobile app privacy policy just by following the guidelines above.  However, be sure to write the language very clearly so that it is easy to understand and unlikely to cause confusion.

It’s also helpful to look at the privacies of other well-established websites as a guide.  A good example of a straightforward, thorough one that you can learn from is Twitter’s privacy policy.

Failing to abide by privacy laws can be costly.  So before you jump into the exciting business of mobile apps, make sure you are aware of these major privacy issues so that you set yourself up to avoid any problems.

To make sure you are fully compliant with the law and protecting yourself against all privacy concerns, the best thing to do is consult with a digital media and Internet lawyer.  Lawyers experienced with these types of legal issues will not only be able to draft a solid privacy policy for you, but they can also provide valuable guidance along the way to ensure that you avoid any potential pitfalls related to mobile app privacy.