Privacy labels for apps available in Apple’s App Store are meant provide at-a-glance information to potential customers. A way for them to see what an app’s asking for before they download it. However, a new report says that many apps are downright showing false information to those customers.
That’s according to a new report today from The Washington Post. The publication did a quick spot-check on several apps available in Apple’s digital storefront, and found the results are sorely lacking. Apple made the privacy labels feature a mandatory element for developers submitting apps to the App Store, so these labels should be present on all current apps. (Google took its sweet time updating its own apps.)
The report indicates that more than half of the apps it checked out show misleading information, or completely false information.
Per the report:
I downloaded a de-stressing app called the Satisfying Slime Simulator that gets the App Store’s highest-level label for privacy. It turned out to be the wrong kind of slimy, covertly sending information — including a way to track my iPhone — to Facebook, Google and other companies. Behind the scenes, apps can be data vampires, probing our phones to help target ads or sell information about us to data firms and even governments.
As I write this column, Apple still has an inaccurate label for Satisfying Slime. And it’s not the only deception. When I spot-checked what a couple dozen apps claim about privacy in the App Store, I found more than a dozen that were either misleading or flat-out inaccurate.
They included the popular game Match 3D, social network Rumble and even the PBS Kids Video app. (Say it ain’t so, Elmo!) Match and Rumble have now both changed their labels, and PBS changed some of how its app communicates with Google.
The key thing to note here is this: “This information has not been verified by Apple”. Apple relies on developers of the apps available in the App Store to be honest. As noted in the original report, it basically breaks down to an honor system. Apple will only react to an app if it’s been made aware of an issue. So while Apple is approving apps to be made available in the digital storefront to begin with, it’s not checking up on these privacy labels before the developers publish them.
But, from the report, Apple isn’t quick to respond when issues are discovered:
If a journalist and a talented geek could find so many problems just by kicking over a few stones, why isn’t Apple?
Even after I sent it a list of dubious apps, Apple wouldn’t answer my specific questions, including: How many bad apps has it caught? If being innacurate means you get the boot, why are some of the ones I flagged still available?
Apple does say it conducts audits, though, as far as the information shared in privacy labels is concerned. So apparently if something jumps out during those times, the company can reach out to a developer and request a change. But it ultimately comes down to the developers to provide accurate information to the customer, because Apple has said that these privacy labels are a work in progress, and there’s obviously going to be some bumps in the road along the way.
But, what do you think? Should Apple be doing more regarding privacy labels to help keep customers safe? Or should the system rely completely on the developers and an honor system?