Your favorite mobile apps should soon be making it a lot more clear when they intend to use your data.

The Attorney General of California, Kamala D. Harris, announced Wednesday a deal with Amazon, Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Research in Motion; the companies agreed to strengthen privacy protection for users that download third-party apps to smartphones and tablet devices.

In the deal, the companies said they would require app developers to clearly spell out what data their apps can access and what the app or company does with that data. The deal also makes app store custodians such as Apple and Google, who run the App Store and Android Market, set up a way for users to report apps that don’t provide a clear-cut explanation of their privacy policies.

According to a statement from Attorney General Harris’ office, if an app developer doesn’t meet these new privacy-policy requirements, they could be charged with a crime under California law.

“California has a unique commitment to protecting the privacy of our residents,” said Harris. “Our constitution directly guarantees a right to privacy, and we will defend it.”

Android users are well aware that developers on the platform are required to ask them for permission before accessing their personal data, but they’re not told how or why their data is being accessed. Apple also doesn’t allow any software on its App Store that takes personal information without asking, but developers haven’t been transparent on that platform, either.

In fact, Harris’ office says, only five percent of all mobile apps offer a privacy policy. And developers across both platforms have come under fire recently for coding software that transmits users’ personal data unbeknownst to them.

That controversy managed to pique the interest of some members of Congress, who sent a letter of inquiry to Apple.

Should lawmakers intervene when the creators of popular platforms like Android and iOS may not be doing enough to protect the privacy of their users? Sound off in the comments below.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, TommL

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How is this for a gauge of how desperately technology companies are seeking programmers? Over the weekend, any coder can audition for jobs at companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Groupon and Apple simultaneously — without changing out of their pajamas.

Programmer database startup Interviewstreet is hosting an online coding challenge called CodeSprint beginning Friday, and 75 technology companies will be looking for employment candidates on its leaderboard.

Coders who sign up for the challenge will receive an email on Friday evening when a set of programming problems becomes available. As they solve problems throughout the weekend, they will earn points and can see how they stack up against other participants. After the challenge ends on Sunday night, the participating companies will have the opportunity to contact specific candidates for job interviews based on their performance.

Questions will include basic programming challenges as well as real-world problems. A practice problem in the latter category, for instance, asks users to create a program that finds what time of day any Twitter user tweets most often. Some companies, including Groupon, have created problems that are relevant to their own engineering challenges. In all cases, better code that works faster will earn more points.

This is the second time that Interviewstreet has hosted a coding challenge. The first event, in October, only admitted students at select universities, resulting in 140 job interviews. This upcoming challenge will allow anyone with Internet access to participate.

Interviewstreet is not conducting virtual employment hackathons out of sympathy for unemployed computer scientists (of which there are few). Coding challenges are core to its business, which catalogs programmers based on skills they have proved themselves in. When an employer hires a coder it finds on the site, or through a CodeSprint challenge, they pay the startup $10,000.

Are you participating in the CodeSprint challenge? Let us know in the comments below.

More About: amazon, apple, CodeSprint, Facebook, Interviewstreet, jobs

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Amazon’s Kindle Fire isn’t the only device gearing up for a major software update. Barnes & Noble announced plans on Monday to roll out a series of performance improvements and entertainment features for its Nook Color ereader, including a variety of apps such as Netflix and Flixter.

The Nook Color’s 1.4 software update — which now resembles the operating system powering the Nook Tablet — gives readers far more options on how to interact with the device.

The company’s “biggest ever update” for its year-old Nook Color includes access to Netflix’s streaming service, allowing users to access popular movies and TV shows directly on the device. The update also features NookComics – which adds a large collection of full-color comics and Marvel graphic novels – and PagePerfect Nook Books with ebooks focused on images, such as cooking and art books.

The update also made various improvements to usability. The Nook Color now offers the flexibility to read books in portrait or landscape mode, adjust the text with additional font sizes and directly look up words in its internal dictionary. Viewing PDFs is also more interactive, as users can pinch and zoom in on images.

Although the company hasn’t unveiled a service that allows Nook Color users the ability to download or rent movies through the device, Barnes & Noble noted that more video services are in the works. Apps for popular music services such as Pandora and Grooveshark are also available for download.

SEE ALSO: Nook Tablet Gives Kindle Fire a Run for Its Money [REVIEW]

Nook Color users can download the update now via its site or can do so through Wi-Fi when the company rolls out the option later this week.

Barnes & Noble is giving shoppers the opportunity to receive a free $25 gift certificate to the store when a Nook Color, Nook Simple Touch or Nook Tablet is purchased with a MasterCard. The offer is only valid for today, Monday Dec. 12.

Will the updates give the Nook Color a new advantage over the competition or is it still playing catch up?

More About: amazon, ereader, Gadget, nook color, Tablet, Tech

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Amazon has unveiled Silk, a brand new web browser that lives both on the tablet and in the cloud.

The browser, which will be available on the Amazon Fire tablet, dramatically cuts down on load times and request times by splitting the workload between the tablet and Amazon’s EC2. This infusion of cloud computing is the secret sauce that makes the Silk browser load pages quickly.

Silk also invokes predictive technology. It utilizes machine learning to detect user behavior and predict what the user will request next.

In a demonstration at its press event in New York, Amazon loaded 53 static file images, 39 dynamic files, 30 Javascript files and three Flash files within seconds.

Amazon engineers say that they called the browser Silk because “a thread of silk is an invisible yet incredibly strong connection between two different things,” which describes the relationship between Amazon’s browser and the cloud.

Check out the video that Amazon has produced to learn more about the new cloud-based browser.

For Mashable’s Complete Amazon Kindle & Kindle Fire Coverage

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If running errands like grocery shopping isn’t your cup of tea, Amazon‘s got your back. The company is doing internal testing of a free grocery delivery service.

If this program works out, remembering the milk might be a thing of the past.

Dubbed AmazonTote, the program has been tested by Amazon employees in Seattle for the past six months or so. In its infancy, the service entails weekly delivery of groceries and other items to the user’s home, with the groceries bagged in reusable tote bags, all free of charge.

According to The Financial Times, the service is linked to Amazon’s Fresh grocery delivery service, which currently only operates in the Seattle area but is available to all consumers in that area.

Fresh offers fresh produce and meats in addition to non-perishable grocery items; the service goes beyond food, too, ranging from pet supplies to beauty products and other categories. Granted, the convenience is reflected in the price — would you pay $2.50 for a single grapefruit under any other circumstances? — but you get what you pay for, which in this case amounts to a lot of time and energy saved.

Clearly, customers’ being able to order everyday home items online and have them delivered to their doors would put Amazon in further competition with big-box retailers. As an online bookstore, Amazon has given companies like Barnes & Noble and Borders a run for their money.

If Amazon’s delivery service goes nationwide — and if it remains free and frequent — we can see the online retailer grabbing business from Walmart, Target and even local grocery stores. Alternatively, Walmart, Target, et al. would be forced to offer competing delivery services of their own. In either case, the consumer wins.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, DNY59.

More About: amazon, amazon fresh, delivery, grocery, online retailer

Social Media News

Welcome to this morning’s edition of “First To Know,” a series in which we keep you in the know on what’s happening in the digital world. We’re keeping our eyes on three particular stories of interest today.

Apple to Challenge Facebook With iPhone “Photo Streaming?”

In an early developer build of the upcoming iPhone operating system iOS 4.3, sleuths have found evidence that Apple might introduce a social media capability called “Photo Streaming.”

ARM & IBM Partner on New Mobile Chipsets

IBM and ARM have announced that the two companies will be partnering on advanced semiconductor technologies designed to power the next generation of mobile gadgets.

Amazon Acquires Entertainment Subscription Service has acquired the remaining shares in European home entertainment subscription service Lovefilm, the company has announced.

Further News

  • Collecta, a real-time search engine that launched in June 2009, has quietly shuttered its main product; the team is returning “back into the woodshed,” in the words of CEO Gerry Campbell, to work on new ideas and new directions.
  • Chinese environmental groups have called out Apple for poor green and safety standards in its Chinese supply chain, which has resulted in the poisoning and injury of some workers.
  • Social game developer Kabam has raised $30 million in funding from Redpoint Ventures, Intel Capital and Canaan Partners in order to create multiplayer social games for hardcore gamers.
  • Image courtesy of iStockphoto, DNY59

    More About: amazon, apple, arm, IBM, lovefilm has acquired the remaining shares in European home entertainment subscription service Lovefilm, the company has announced.

Amazon already had a 42% share in Lovefilm, and now it acquired the rest for an undisclosed amount, with the rumored price being around £200 million ($312 million).

Lovefilm does both online DVD and game rentals and streaming movies and TV shows over the Internet. It operates in the UK, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, making it the biggest European service of its kind.

Amazon does not operate a similar service in Europe, meaning the acquisition is probably a defensive move against a possible international expansion by U.S. online movie rental service Netflix.

The acquisition still needs to be approved by the European regulators, and is expected to close in Q1 2011.

More About: amazon, europe, lovefilm, movie rental, netflix, online, streaming

A little more than a month after Amazon invested $175 million in the startup, LivingSocial is offering users a deal to purchase a $20 gift card to for $10.

The deal is available to LivingSocial members in all 170 markets and runs from now until 8 a.m. ET on Thursday.

More than 230,000 vouchers have been purchased two hours after the offer went live, meaning that the deal has already generated $2.3 million in gross sales for the startup — not bad, especially given that members are limited to one voucher per person.

More About: amazon, LivingSocial

Amazon Web Services has launched a new service called Elastic Beanstalk, which helps developers simplify the management of their applications in the cloud.

The service, launched in beta, is primarily aimed at developers who either can’t or don’t want to manage every little detail about the deployment of their app in the cloud, such as load balancing, auto scaling and health monitoring. However, Elastic Beanstalk lets developers keep full control over the AWS resources powering their app, if they choose to handle it themselves.

“This is for customers building applications that may not have the technical depth to manage the underlying compute infrastructure. Beanstalk is completely black-boxed,” says the vice president of web services at Amazon, Adam Selipsky.

The initial release of Elastic Beanstalk supports Java, using the Apache Tomcat software stack, but Amazon claims the service is designed “so that it can be extended to support multiple development stacks and programming languages in the future.”

Elastic Beanstalk is free for AWS customers, who only need to pay for the resources needed to run their applications.

More About: amazon, application, Beanstalk Elastic, cloud, cloud computing, developers, development

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