EU Application (App) developers for smartphones and tablets are anxiously awaiting new guidelines from the Article 29 Working Party which is composed of representatives from all national EU data protection authorities. Since October 2012, it has been expected that new guidelines would be released regulating the approach that developers take to handling certain types of private data such as location data of users. The matter stands to be discussed at the next meeting of the Article 29 Working party expected to be held towards the end of February 2013.
It is currently presumed that the most pressing topic on the agenda is the issue of “Geolocation”. This allows the developers to integrate features into apps that can locate the user anywhere in the world. This data is normally anonymous however the Article 29 Working Party has considered it an important matter for regulation due to the implications of such data being abused.
The urgency of regulating this practice emanates from recent decisions by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC recently investigated matters relating to the use of geolocation by operators and held that if the practice remains unchecked, it could lead to violations of several specialised federal laws like the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
A representative of the Finnish company Rovio, developers of the popular game “Angry Birds” defended the use of geolocation stating that it is used by developers to help improve their services. One example of the advantages he mentioned involved routing users to nearby download mirrors to ensure better download speeds for online functions. This also allows for faster response where an app ceases to function properly.
It is currently a concern of all app developers that the new guidelines could impact smaller developers who will be forced to hire extra individuals to monitor use of data and manage it properly. If the guidelines are too stringent, they may have the undesirable effect of making developers migrate their operations out of the EU.