The Role of Application Developers in Mobile Privacy and Security: Essay Example

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994 words
Carnegie Mellon University
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Phones, particularly smartphones, are an indispensable feature of modern life. Smartphones offer a range of capabilities through the array of mobile applications compatible with their platforms. App developers take advantage of the inbuilt features in smartphones such as camera, GPS capability, and accelerometer to come up with applications offering useful services to the user. Overall, the value of mobile applications in enhancing the quality of life today is enormous. However, along with the various useful functions smartphones offer, their global diffusion coupled with relatively loose regulation on applications poses uncharted privacy concerns. While most of the blame for the privacy breaches is placed on platform providers, application developers are most liable in instances where there is a breach of the users privacy.

While research has exhaustively looked at the smartphone user perceptions and explored the increasing need for privacy and security in an age characterized by widespread snooping, there has been a dearth of research on the perspective of application developers. Mobile phone applications are developed by a broad and extensive array of companies and individuals. As the landscape for innovation is enormous and the barrier to entry extremely low, thousands of small and medium-sized corporations have been able to develop and publish either one or multiple apps. There little to no training or certification for application developers designed to safeguard the user's interests. Additionally, most developers either partially or entirely lack awareness of privacy measures and make decisions regarding the privacy and security of their applications in an ad-hoc manner. Furthermore, developers may feel the need to develop and publish quickly to be first on the market. In this race to innovate, security and privacy often are not prioritized by developers constrained by time and resources (Streitfeld). Inevitably, the result is an app that does not convincingly address the privacy and security concerns of the user. There is a need, therefore to standardize the process of app development to address the security concerns of the user adequately.

The concerns about the security of user sensitive data contained in phones and implication of that on the whole issue of user privacy were brought to the fore by the popular iOS social networking tool Path (Torres). Controversies about the app, launched about five years ago, helped delineate the roles of both the platform - Apple Inc.- and the developers in the protection of the user's privacy. In 2012, it emerged that a version of the application automatically uploaded the entire phonebook of the user every time the user logged on to the app. That capability was in spite of one of the iOS's core guidelines explicitly outlining that apps were not allowed to transmit any of the user's data without directly seeking the permission of the user and allowing the user access to information detailing how the data once uploaded will be used and who is authorized to access it. However, while Apple's development guidelines were framed with the protection of the user's data in mind, the onus is really on the developer to make the applications transparent and offer adequate customer's service. Path's controversy pointed to a bigger problem found in most applications where developers were not clear about how they were collecting user-sensitive information and how the information was utilized (Torres). That fact shows that the developers are culpable in most instances involving a breach of user-sensitive data.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development waded into the topic of user privacy and the enforcement of the same by releasing a checklist of principles that developers needed to abide by to safeguard the interests of the user adequately. The principles included transparency, security, accountability, collection limitation, use limitation and the participation of the user in the whole process. Despite the principles guiding the development process, there is noted hesitance by most developers to abide by them with some failing to tailor privacy communications for small device screens (Kamala 1). Developers who attempted to tailor the privacy policies for small screen devices had them in such small typefaces that it was virtually impossible to read while others made lengthy privacy policies. Privacy policies are currently viewed by small and middle size developers as tools to help them successfully avoid lawsuits. However, this should not be the case; privacy policies should be formulated in a way that aids the consumer to understand the security and privacy implications of installing a particular app.

However, it is not all about the developer in matters privacy as it can be argued that the platform and user also shoulder some responsibility whenever there is a breach of data. On the part of the platform, Apple Inc. has been blamed for making the phonebooks of its users more accessible and vulnerable to applications (Torres). The iOS sandbox is designed in such a way that all kinds of applications have the same permissions to access user data unlike in Android where each app or category of apps has to request for the precise permissions that are core to its functioning. On the part of the user, it is important to read through the privacy policies of applications before installing them as most of the complaints regarding user privacy are addressed in some of the privacy policies.

In conclusion, security and privacy, as fundamentally granted by the law, are important considerations to which application developers and mobile platforms need to pay more attention. Overall, although the platform is at least partially to blame for either through negligence or failure to vet the applications properly, application developers are most liable for accessing user sensitive information without their direct permission.


Works Cited

Kamala, Harris D. Privacy on the go: recommendations for the mobile ecosystem. 2013.

Streitfeld, David. "As Boom Lures App Creators, Tough Part Is Making a Living." 7 November 2012. New York Times. 4 October 2017.

Torres, Cesar. "Path addresses privacy controversy, but social apps remain a risk to users." 2 December 2012. Ars Technica. 4 October 2017.



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