Privacy Victoria sweep uncovers lacking Android app presence

Android users are missing out on access to Victorian government smartphone apps, according to new findings from the Victorian Privacy Commissioner, with less than two-thirds of the state's public organisations' apps catering to Google’s OS.

The Victorian Privacy Commissioner has published findings from a sweep of the state's public sector mobile apps market, revealing a marked discrepancy between apps made for the Android operating system and those created for Apple's iOS.

Of the 64 apps developed by Victorian public sector organisations examined by Privacy Victoria, less than two-thirds of them catered for Google's Android operating system, while over 90 percent of the apps were applicable iPhone's iOS.

"There are two dominant platforms for mobile apps, but whereas 94 percent of the swept apps had an iOS (Apple) version only 62 percent catered for Android," said Privacy Victoria in a statement. "This reduces the extent of citizen engagement."

The findings come after Privacy Victoria joined 27 data protection authorities around the world participating in the Global Privacy Enforcement Network's Privacy Sweep 2014 of mobile apps.

Among the issues the sweep focused on were whether consumers are clearly informed about the types of personal information an app collects and uses, why that data is needed, and how many apps collect information way beyond what is actually needed for an app's functionality.

The findings of the sweep also revealed that there was a dearth of app-specific privacy policies in place — with the review finding that in most cases there was either no policy or a reference to a generic privacy policy.

Additionally, the sweep found that there were many examples of a private sector app developer being named as the app seller/data controller, rather than the responsible private sector organisation, and that in-app communications were sometimes not tailored for the "small screen".

Privacy Victoria said that although the proliferation of mobile apps is at the forefront of emerging communications technology between the public and government organisations, this burgeoning channel does not pose an increased privacy security threat to the public.

"The implementation of digital and mobile channels is a relatively new direction for public sector agencies, and the emphasis on mobile apps is now at the forefront, as stated in the recently updated Victorian Government ICT Strategy," Privacy Victoria said. "However, the proliferation of mobile apps should not have negative privacy implications for Victorians."

According to Privacy Victoria, the sweep also serves as an early introduction to Privacy by Design, a series of internationally-endorsed policies, approaches, and benchmarks designed to integrate privacy with new technology in a bid to ensure that "perceptions that privacy and the use of new technologies are trade-offs, otherwise known as a zero-sum game," are overcome.