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Increased Global Regulatory Focus on Mobile Apps: What Companies Should Know
Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Data protection authorities worldwide, including France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), the California attorney general (CAG), and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), recently have indicated their intention to increase privacy enforcement efforts against mobile apps. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, data protection and privacy concerns remain at the forefront for both consumers and businesses. This blog post explores these announcements and offers companies practical considerations to ensure their mobile apps comply with applicable data protection regulations.

The CNIL, CAG, and FTC’s increased focus on mobile apps reflects these platforms’ growing significance in today’s digital ecosystem. With mobile apps increasingly becoming primary gateways to online services, the government authorities see a heightened need to ensure that they adhere to data protection regulations, such as the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and the U.S. federal regulations enforced by the FTC. CNIL also is considering drafting a set of best practices for mobile app privacy compliance, which could serve as a model for other jurisdictions.

Following are several factors that make mobile apps a potential source of data protection risk:

  1. Large amounts of personal data: Mobile apps typically collect and process large amounts of personal data, including location, contacts, messages, and more, making them prime targets for data breaches and other privacy violations. Pay particular attention to device identifiers as the CNIL views these as personal data.

  2. Complex data sharing practices: Mobile apps frequently share data with multiple third parties, including advertisers, analytics providers, and social networks. This creates a complex web of data sharing that can make it difficult for users to understand how their data is being used and for companies to ensure compliance with data protection regulations.

  3. Inadequate consent mechanisms: Many mobile apps fail to provide users with clear and easily accessible information about data collection practices and do not obtain valid consent for processing personal data, which can result in data protection violations.

Company Considerations

Given increased regulatory focus on mobile apps, companies should consider taking proactive steps to ensure compliance with data protection regulations. Here are some key actions to consider for mobile app compliance:

  1. Conduct a thorough data protection impact assessment related to mobile app processing (DPIA): A DPIA can help companies identify potential risks associated with a mobile app’s data processing activities and develop effective strategies to mitigate those risks. While a DPIA may or may not be required by applicable data protection law depending on the processing involved, they are a valuable tool in either instance to ensure all risks of mobile app processing are considered. Involve key stakeholders, such as app developers, data protection officers, and legal counsel in the process.

  2. Review and update privacy policies: A mobile app’s privacy policy should be transparent, easily accessible, and written in clear, concise language. It should provide users with comprehensive information about how their personal data is collected, processed, shared, and stored. Ensure the privacy policy aligns with data protection law requirements as well as the requirements placed on mobile apps via the applicable app stores.

  3. Implement user-friendly consent mechanisms: If consent is the basis of processing data in a mobile app, companies should ensure that the mobile app obtains valid consent from users before collecting and processing their personal data. This may involve using opt-in checkboxes, just-in-time notifications, or other mechanisms that give users genuine control over their data. Remember that under the GDPR, when processing based upon consent a controller must give the data subject the ability to withdraw that consent.

  4. Limit data collection and retention: Collect only the personal data necessary for the mobile app’s functionality and retain it for no longer than necessary. Implement data minimization principles and follow the “storage limitation” principle to reduce the risk of data breaches and privacy violations.

  5. Secure personal data: Implement robust security measures, such as encryption and secure data storage, to protect mobile app users’ personal data from unauthorized access, disclosure, or loss. Regularly assess and update your security measures to address evolving threats and vulnerabilities. Additionally, the Google Play store has voluntary security assessments to ensure the mobile app adheres to best practices. Completion of the assessments allows the mobile app to display a security trust mark icon on the app store download page, signaling security compliance to potential users.

  6. Manage third-party data sharing: If your mobile app shares data with third parties, ensure that these relationships are governed by data processing agreements that outline each party’s data protection responsibilities. Monitor your third-party partners for compliance with data protection regulations, and promptly address any concerns. Crucially, this includes cookie and adtech partners.

As data protection authorities like the CNIL, CAG, and FTC shift their focus to mobile apps, companies should prioritize data protection compliance to minimize the risk of fines and reputational damage. By conducting DPIAs, updating privacy policies, implementing user-friendly consent mechanisms, limiting data collection, securing personal data, and managing third-party data sharing, businesses can demonstrate their commitment to user privacy and stay ahead of regulatory enforcement actions.

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