Tech wrap: Apple iOS apps to require “explicit” OK to share your contacts

February 15, 2012

Apple tweaked its policy on permission iOS apps need to access the contact information of users after legislators sought more information from the company regarding its privacy policies.

“Apps that collect or transmit a user’s contact data without their prior permission are in violation of our guidelines,” an Apple spokesman told Reuters. “We’re working to make this even better for our customers, and as we have done with location services, any app wishing to access contact data will require explicit user approval in a future software release.”

The announcement came after Path, a San Francisco startup, attracted widespread criticism last week after a Singaporean developer discovered that Path’s iPhone app had been quietly uploading his contacts’ names and phone numbers onto Path’s servers. In the following days, other tech bloggers discovered that iPhone apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare similarly uploads user data – without permission, in some cases. Later, blogger Dustin Curtis, wrote in a widely distributed post that “there’s a quiet understanding among many iOS app developers that it is acceptable to send a user’s entire address book, without their permission to remote servers and then store it for future reference.”

Chinese technology firm Proview, which has been seeking to ban all shipments of Apple’s iPad tablet into and out of China, said that customs authorities had told it that the sheer size of the market and the popularity of iPads would make it difficult to impose a ban. The legal battle between Proview and Apple centers around using the name “iPad” in China, which a Chinese court last year said Proview owned the trademark rights to. Authorities in some Chinese cities had ordered retailers to stop selling Apple’s iPad due to the dispute.

Working conditions at Chinese manufacturing plants where Apple’s iPads and iPhones are made are far better than those at garment factories or other facilities elsewhere in the country, according to the head of a non-profit agency investigating the plants. The Fair Labor Association is beginning a study of the working conditions of Apple’s top eight suppliers in China, following reports of worker suicides, a plant explosion and slave-like conditions at one of those suppliers, Foxconn. Auret van Heerden, president of the FLA offered no immediate conclusions on the working conditions, but he noted that boredom and alienation could have contributed to the stress that led some workers to take their own lives.

Telemarketers will have to get written consent before placing automated calls to consumers under new rules the Federal Communications Commission voted to adopt. The FCC will enforce stricter rules on so-called telemarketing “robocalls,” mandating that these autodialed or prerecorded calls can only be placed to consumers who have already agreed in writing to receive them. Companies will no longer be able to point to an established business relationship with a consumer to justify the automated pitches. All robocalls will also have to include an automated opt-out option to allow consumers to immediately notify telemarketers that they no longer want to receive these calls.

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