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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Hewlett-Packard unveiled its version of an Ultrabook at CES today, called the Spectre. The laptop has been designed to the nines — the back of the monitor is sleek black glass, and the 14-inch display is beautiful. But is it a real Ultrabook?

Since the term is licensed and controlled by Intel, the answer is yes in the strictest sense. But here’s the rub: Ultrabooks are typically extremely thin and light, and the HP Spectre (technically the HP Envy 14 Spectre) doesn’t score well in either department. It clocks in at 3.79 pounds and 0.78 inches thick. Contrast that with the MacBook Air, which began the sleek-laptop trend, which weighs 2.4 – 3 pounds (depending on screen size) and has a tapered design that’s starts with a thickness of 0.68 inches but shrinks all the way down 0.11 inches.

Besides that, the Spectre just feels kind of bulky. In a hands-on with the device, I was taken aback by its heft. Don’t get me wrong — this is clearly no bulky gaming laptop — but super-sleek, it is not. Intel publishes a list of “targeted features” for Ultrabooks, and they say that a laptop should be lighter than 3.1 pounds or thinner than 0.71 inches at its thickest point, or it doesn’t make the cut. By that definition, the Spectre doesn’t qualify.

Does it really matter, though? The Spectre is still an impressive piece of hardware, with a beautiful HD Radiance Display and a Beats Audio system. It’s powered by either a Core i5 or i7 processor, depending on how you configure it. The backlit keyboard is better than in other HP Envy laptops, and it has a power-saving proximity sensor that only lights it up when someone’s using it. Battery life is rated as nine hours.

The Spectre also has a weird but potentially very interesting feature: near-field communication (NFC). The technology is usually built into phones as a mobile-payment system, but HP uses it to make transferring things like links and maps to your PC as easy as waving you phone in front of it. Once you set it up, just tap your phone to the Spectre and the URL shows up in the laptop’s browser. Kind of neat, and has lots of potential.

Scoring in its favor on the Ultrabook question is the 256GB solid-state drive, which helps speed up boot time along with Intel’s Rapid Start Technology. For connectivity, it has so-called “gigabit” Ethernet, USB 3.0, HDMI and Mini DisplayPort.

The HP Spectre goes on sale in February, starting at $1,400.

What’s your take? Is the Spectre an Ultrabook or not? And more important, would you buy it? Let us know in the comments.

HP Spectre

The Spectre is HP’s first Ultrabook, a new category of relatively affordable ultra-thin laptops with fast bootup times.

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More About: CES, CES 2012, Hewlett-Packard, Spectre, Ultrabook

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