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Don't go there, 'privacy-friendly' apps

Several Canadian privacy watchdogs have created a set of guidelines to help mobile developers create "privacy-friendly" smartphone apps.

And they warn that failing to be transparent about any information collected could see developers running afoul of both the law and their potential customers.

Federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart joined her counterparts in British Columbia and Alberta in releasing a 12-page document that explains how Canada's privacy laws apply to mobile app developers, whether they're based in this country or farther afield.

Stoddart says it's been a challenge to ensure everyone in the growing mobile app industry knows that the rules apply to them.

"We were concerned that apps often seem to have nothing to do with Canadian law on the use of personal information," Stoddart says in an interview.

"Sometimes they're not aware. Sometimes I get the impression they don't care and they're not going out of their way to find out. And sometimes it's a catch-me-if-you-can attitude."

Stoddart says any developer that sells an app to Canadians must comply with the same privacy legislation as any other business.

That, according to the guide, means developers are responsible for ensuring any information they collect from users is relevant to their product and is securely stored. Users must be fully informed and must consent to the type of information that will be collected and what will be done with it.

The guide offers tips to ensure developers are thinking about privacy from the planning stages of an app.

"Because of the hugely networked online world, bad news travels fast, and there's always the privacy-conscious people out there who can spread the word if they don't think (an app) is respectful of their privacy," says Stoddart.

"In spite of urban myths to the contrary, they don't want to give away demographic information or where their location is to get apps for free."

Federal and provincial privacy commissioners have the power to enforce privacy laws. They can launch investigations and order companies to shape up. If they don't comply, the commissioners can then ask the courts to step in.

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