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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The annual Macworld exposition begins on Thursday in San Francisco, and for the twenty-eighth consecutive year will bring together Apple fans, users and developers. But this installment adds a new twist — and a new name.

It’s now billed as Macworld | iWorld, which better captures “the essence of what a mobile lifestyle is,” according to event general manager Paul Kent.

As part of that emphasis, this year’s convention will include a festival of films exclusively shot on iPhones and how-to sessions about ways to better leverage Apple’s mobile-friendly technology. Macworld | iWorld will also feature the traditional assortment of lectures and product demonstrations. Artists and musicians will showcase work created using Apple products. The event runs Thursday through Saturday.

But Macworld | iWorld also faces a challenge: Three years after Apple’s final appearance at the event, can it remain relevant to fans and consumers?

Kent said the showcase is aware of the challenge but believes it still has great utility as a way for fans and consumers to talk to developers, get their hands on new apps, and pick up useful tips and hints in a unique way.

“We answer the question of, ‘What do I do now?’ after people have walked out of the Apple Store with their new Mac or iPhone or iPad,” he said in an interview.

“The tools are so powerful and accessible that you ramp up much differently that you do using Windows or Android,” Kent added.


Lost Its Luster?


One longtime Mac developer told Mashable that the event may have lost some of its luster since Apple pulled out, but that it still has significance within the Mac-loving community.

“I think it’s still relevant, but whether it’s as relevant is hard to judge,” said Christopher Allen, who has developed applications for Mac since 1984 and written books for iOS users.

Allen is attending this year’s event to do marketing for his new app, Infinite Canvas. He said that Macworld’s smaller scale since Apple left — the event reportedly drew 44,000 attendees in 2007 when Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone, compared to 22,000 attendees last year — offers people like himself a set of costs and benefits.

“At its height, Macworld was starting to take on some of the challenges of CES, where it was getting so huge it was hard for a small company to get visibility,” he said. “But now that we’re a smaller Macworld, it might be a little easier to get the word out.”

But Allen added it has become harder to find Apple engineers and evangelists to network and market products with, formerly a major benefit of the show. And smaller attendance numbers also mean fewer sales.

“Before, small developers could basically show up and pay for their booth through sales but now I’m not quite as confident that’s possible,” he said. “Now it’s more of a pure marketing expense for a small developer, although they have made some good strides to improve that, like opening up on Saturday for more consumers to come through.”


Still Relevant


Kent and other organizers, meanwhile, remain bullish on the potential and relevance of Macworld — or, as it’s known now, Macworld | iWorld. Mashable got a preview of the event as it was being set up on Wednesday, and it looks to be an “insanely great,” to borrow the term, showcase for lovers of Apple products. Its larger relevance in the market, however, will remain to be seen.

“If people recognize this is not a trade show — it’s a lifestyle event — then it will work for them on so many levels,” Kent said. “If we’ve made the experience of using these products even more pleasurable through education, product discovery, performance and everything else here, then we will have really done our job.”

What do you think? Three years after Apple’s withdrawal, is Macworld | iWorld still relevant to you? Let us know in the comments

Also, click through the slideshow below to check out Mashable‘s behind-the-scenes look at what to expect this year at Macworld | iWorld.

1. Building Macworld | iWorld

The main exhibit hall was still being put together when we got to visit. Viewed here as you enter, it will feature a mobile hub to the right and software stations to the left.

Click here to view this gallery.

Thumbnail image courtesy of www.macworldiworld.com. All gallery images exclusive to Mashable unless otherwise noted.

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The latest scuttlebutt on Apple’s big education announcement next week: the company is venturing into textbooks.

An industry insider confirmed to the New York Times that Apple will, in fact, be partnering with textbook publishers. No new devices will be shown, the source says, but Apple will discuss their new digital textbook business next week.

“Join us for an education announcement in the Big Apple,” is all the invitation from Apple says. Mashable will be reporting from the event at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City on Jan. 19.

The location makes sense for a textbook announcement; New York City is a hot spot for textbook publishers. But will cash-strapped college students pay for digital books when studies show that renting paper books is cheaper? The same report did show, however, that digital books are typically cheaper than new paperback books.

In addition to the price, the majority of students prefer printed books, according to another study. So Apple has its work cut out for it. The company will need to partner with enough publishers, and make its digital books cheap and good looking enough to trump even used and rental print editions.

Textbook giants McGraw-Hill and Pearson already have a stake in the digital book realm. Still, aligning their companies with a brand such as Apple and the massive market presence that goes with it — particularly in some Newsstand-like venture — could make digital textbooks soar.

Newsstand increased revenues by more than 200% for at least one magazine publisher (Conde Nast). Other New York publishers will have taken note. History has shown that when Apple jumps into an industry — music, movies, phone apps, books and magazines — the prices drop, and Apple dominates the market.

Could affordable digital textbooks be the preferred choice of college students in the near future? What do you think about Apple getting into the textbook game? Let us know in the comments.

More About: apple, books, college, iOS

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Facebook has released an update to its iPhone app, with version 4.1 now giving you access to its new Timeline interface.

The timeline was available on iPhone before, but only if you accessed Facebook from its mobile site (m.facebook.com) on the iPhone’s Safari browser. Now you can download an update of the Facebook iPhone app, where it shows you a similar view to that of the mobile browser version.

SEE ALSO: Facebook Timeline: How to Enable It With One Click [PICS]

It’s not quite the same as what you’ll get on a desktop browser, where instead of two columns of posts that you get in that larger view, on the mobile version they’re stacked on top of each other. Even so, you can still chronologically scroll through your life, and after you’ve gone through a month’s worth of items, it offers you a selection of the next month or previous years.

Besides that, the app feels slightly snappier, as Facebook mentioned in its release notes. An iPad version of this update not available yet, but Facebook says support for that is “coming soon.” The iPhone version is now available for download from the Apple App Store.

1. View All Your Timeline Content

Facebook’s mysterious algorithm decides which stories will showcase on your Timeline.

However, it also includes half-hidden posts. Posts that are marked on your Timeline, but not displayed, are noted by a blue dot on the central line. You can view these posts by clicking on the individual blue dots.

A quicker method is to click on the three blue dots underneath each year. This gives you the option to view all stories within that year.

Click here to view this gallery.

[wp_scm_facebook_timeline]

More About: apps, Facebook, iOS, iphone, timeline, trending

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Twitter is dead. Long live, Twitter!

The Internet’s most popular microblogging service got a major upgrade today, rolling out a brand-new look and a bunch of new features. The update is the most comprehensive and wide-ranging change Twitter’s ever done, revamping its website, its apps for both iOS and Android, and even its recently acquired social-media integrator, TweetDeck. Here’s a closer look at what Twitter’s done and why.


What’s Different


When you visit the new Twitter, you can quickly see the site’s been reorganized in some key ways. Everything fits into one of four labels:

  • Home: This is your old news feed, only better. Whereas before media in tweets like photos and videos was viewable on the side, now you can see them right in the tweet (you still need to click). You’ll also be able to see information about @replies and retweets for a particular tweet by selecting “Open,” a new option. Twitter says your feed will now appear “consistently” across platforms. which apparently was a problem before.
  • Connect: This is where all your @replies and mentions will be. Not a lot new here, but Twitter says you can type in someone’s handle will let you learn more about the person and connect instantly.
  • Discover: Twitter appears to have supercharged its search functions and put the results here. More than just a place to look for trending topics and hashtags, Discover will identify stories and trends based on your connections, location and language.
  • Me: Here’s your Twitter profile, made bigger, neater and with more activity recorded. Your information now appears on the left instead of right.
  • Twitter’s mobile apps have been given the same four-column treatment, with streamlined interfaces and a new design. In a subtle change, the old pen icon for drafting a new tweet has been replaced with a quill.

    On the back end, Twitter’s updated its API to allow embedded tweets (more on those in a bit) and some better interactions with various other apps and platforms, like WordPress (disclosure: WordPress is Mashable‘s content management system).


    Why Twitter’s Doing It


    Twitter says it wants to make its interface more inviting to new users, while giving existing users better functionality. But there’s no doubt that a large part of the change has to do with accommodating ways to drum up revenue. Twitter has recently been experimenting with ways to point users toward its advertising services, though it’s done so clumsily at times (case in point: the ill-fated “dickbar” on the iPhone, named after Twitter CEO Dick Costolo). The redesign brings with it opportunities to steer users toward sponsors, specifically through the new branded pages (see below).


    What’s Gone


    We’ll have more information on this after we’ve had a chance to give all the new Twitter apps and the site a thorough hands-on, but on iPhone it appears users can no longer copy and paste from a tweet. Users no longer can translate tweets in other languages. Options to mail, repost, or save links to Instapaper appear to have been removed. And the redesign makes it less convenient to switch accounts.

    An important difference on the Web interface: Profile names are now emphasized whereas the user’s “handle” was front and center before.

    (Thanks to Mashable readers for pointing out many of these changes.)


    Embedded Tweets


    If you have a website, you can now embed individual tweets on a page. It’s sort of like Storify, but just one tweet at a time. From the embed, you can retweet, reply or favorite the tweet, and you can follow the user as well — all without leaving the page. Links and other dynamic content remain active.

    You can see the option to embed a tweet on any tweet’s “permalink” page, accessible via the new Open button. Importantly, tweets that are on private accounts won’t give you the option. Twitter told Mashable. For more on embedded tweets, check out our hands on.

    Twitter also improved its buttons that appear on many websites. Now a Tweet button can include a specific hashtag or @mention, an easier way for sites to get their readers tweeting to specific people and about specific things.


    Brand Pages


    Just like Facebook and Google+, Twitter now has brand pages for companies. Although many, if not most, companies already had their own Twitter accounts, brand pages allow for more functionality and interactions with followers.

    A report in Advertising Age says brands will be able to customize the page with large logos and extended taglines. They’ll also be able to promote tweets in the timeline on their own pages, letting them highlight their best content. Brand pages don’t cost anything, and they’re available to companies large and small.


    User Reaction


    According to a poll of Mashable readers, many users (almost 41% of respondents) love the new changes, saying that the site is “easier to use,” “fantastic” and “pretty kewl.” Some have risen concerns about the features missing in iOS and the necessity of the change, however.

    On Twitter itself, the overall response appears to be positive, with many users reacting with enthusiasm. Most of the negative reactions have to do with mobile, with a few also complaining about the usefulness of “Discover.”


    In contrast to some of its earlier moves this year, Twitter appears to have handled its platform-wide revamp deftly, and the majority of is users are pleased. If it can work out some issues on the mobile side, it may have scored a home run. But the real question will be if the new Twitter can actually serve the company in the area that matters most to all companies: making money.

    [wp_scm_twitter_redesign]

    More About: Advertising, android, iOS, Twitter

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twitter quill

Twitter just unveiled a major redesign, aimed at simplifying the interface and attracting new users to the popular social network. It’s a top-top-bottom change, revamping the website, mobile apps, and even TweetDeck, the company’s social-network integrator software. The new look for the site is rolling out slowly, but anyone with an iPhone or Android device can check out the new Twitter right now.

With the goal of giving users a familiar experience no matter what device they’re on, the new Twitter has four universal buttons: Home, with your familiar feed; Connect, where you can see all your @replies and mentions; Discover, the place to check out trending topics and search hashtags; and Me, where you can dive deeper into your profile.

On top of that, the user interface has been given a makeover, with the pen in new Tweet button taking the form of a quill — a clever nod to Larry, the bird in Twitter’s logo.

If you don’t have the new look yet, you can browse the redesigned iPhone app in the gallery below.

What do you think of the new look? Let us know in our poll, and please leave detailed reactions in the comments. In particular, we’d love to know if you’re a long-time Twitter user or new to the service. And by all means, Tweet about it!


[wp_scm_twitter_redesign]

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apple hack image

Apple has a reputation for being virus and malware-free, but a hacker has uncovered a potentially dangerous security flaw in the App Store. Charlie Miller, a Mac hacker and computer security researcher, has made a bit of a career finding and exposing flaws in Apple‘s software.

His latest discovery shows how the App Store, Apple’s tightly regulated marketplace for iOS apps and programs, could be compromised by code not approved by Apple, reports Forbes.

Miller’s method is to create a normal, Apple-approved app that is programmed to “call” a remote computer that can then use the app to gain access to the user’s phone. This remote computer can then issue commands such as downloading the address book, files stored on the device or even make it vibrate and ring.

Miller created a dummy app (which has since been removed from the app store) called Instastock, which displayed various stock tickers. The app, however, was also tied to Miller’s home computer where he could use the app to gain access to his phone. You can see Miller describe and discuss the app and his hacking process in the video below.

Forbes reports that Miller noticed the potential flaw when Apple released iOS 4.3, which allows javascript code from the web to run deep in the iOS device’s memory. In order to boost the web speed of its new operating system, Apple created an exception for the browser to run unapproved code — such as Miller’s hack — in a region of the device’s memory that had previously been inaccessible. Miller says it’s a flaw in Apple’s restriction on code signing.

Apple hasn’t issued an official response to Miller’s discovery, though Apple did revoke his developer license. Miller says he’s planning to talk about the flaw in more depth at the SysCan conference in Taiwan next week but has stayed mum on the exact details to give Apple more time to fix the security flaw.

Miller’s hack raises an interesting question on whether publicizing these potentially dangerous flaws are good for companies. Hackers (presumably white-hat) find flaws in systems so that companies and organizations can improve their products and safety measures. This practice becomes more controversial when the hackers are officially unaffiliated with the company or relative unknowns. The hackers essentially break the system to show it can be broken with the hope the company can, or will, fix it.

Are white-hat hackers a public service or a corporate nuisance? Let us know your opinions in the comments below.

More About: app store, apple, hacker, hacking, iOS

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Microsoft and Apple are the developers of three of the most popular operating systems in the world (Windows, iOS & Mac OS X), yet their approaches to building the infrastructure that powers laptops, tablets and phones couldn’t be more divergent.

Microsoft recently published a blog post that addressed specific issues that Windows 8 developer preview users had with the start screen.

The Windows 8 team specifically tackles the complaint that the new Windows 8 start screen, which uses the app-style metro interface, isn’t effective at organizing apps (it was originally organized alphabetically) and doesn’t display enough apps on one screen (it originally displayed about 20 apps). Microsoft dives deep into the UX issues of start menus, even calculating how many apps Windows 8 can theoretically fit onto one display at different monitor resolutions.

In the end though, Microsoft concluded that its users were right about the Windows 8 start menu and made two important changes to it as a result. First, it now supports folder-style organization of apps. Secondly, Microsoft is making the start screen denser, meaning that more apps will be visible on a single screen.


The Apple Approach to OS Development


Microsoft’s approach lies in stark contrast to Apple‘s approach to OS development. The notoriously secretive company doesn’t like unveiling products until they are polished. It doesn’t publish detailed stats about how people are using its products. And it rarely makes dramatic changes based on user feedback.

It’s an approach that has worked just fine for Apple (more than fine, in fact). Steve Jobs and his team have been able to develop products and features that users wanted long before users they even knew they wanted them.

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups,” Steve Jobs told BusinessWeek in 1998. “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

This is why you won’t find an Apple blog that details user behavior in iOS. This is why Apple only gives developers a few months to play with new versions of Mac OS X before they get released to the public, while Microsoft will release a new version of Windows to developers more than a year before its official debut.

Both companies are wildly successful with their operating systems. Windows is still the world’s most popular OS, while Apple keeps selling iPhone and iPads by the millions. But we’re about to see what happens when these two opposing philosophies to development butt heads. Microsoft is preparing for war against the iPad, and Windows 8 is its weapon of choice.

Will Microsoft’s philosophy to development trump Apple’s approach? We don’t know the answer to that question yet, but we do know that the fireworks are just getting started.

Check out the galleries below if you want to do a side-by-side comparison of Apple and Microsoft’s approaches to building an OS. Let us know which philosophy you prefer in the comments.


Gallery: Windows 8


Windows 8 Metro Home Screen

This is the Metro interface in Windows 8

Click here to view this gallery.


Gallery: iOS 5


New Home Screen With Notification

Notifications are a big deal in iOS 5. Taking some cues from Android, iOS has finally unified the notification system and made it less clumsy and intrusive.

Message now appear at the top of the screen (though you can choose to allow them to display in the middle) while you are using the phone and they don’t interrupt what you are already doing.

Click here to view this gallery.

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Facebook is bringing its platform to mobile. The social network is allowing app developers to connect users more easily to the mobile or web version of their apps when using the site on a mobile device.

To start, Facebook is launching support for the Facebook mobile website and Facebook for iPad, iPod touch and iPhone. In the future, it will extend support to other platforms like Android.

So is Facebook allowing developers an easy way to create mobile-friendly versions of their Facebook apps? Not quite, although that appears to be the longterm goal. Instead, Facebook is going to allow developers that already have a mobile web or iOS version of their app a more seamless way to integrate the experience within Facebook for mobile.

This means that if I send a request to play Words With Friends from Facebook on my desktop, for example, my friend can respond to my request on Facebook for iPhone. The native Words With Friends app will automatically launch on his phone.

Facebook developers that already have iOS apps will get to integrate Facebook’s Single Sign-On in their app to tie the two together. Facebook is also offering tools for mobile web app developers. Mobile web apps will be able to take advantage of integrating with the Facebook API and even be able to accept Facebook Credits.

Right now, Facebook is positioning the mobile platform primarily as a way to improve app discovery and increase engagement on mobile devices. It’s the engagement aspect that is going to be critical. I have long criticized Facebook for not having a more robust mobile strategy. Monday’s announcements are baby steps, for sure, but it shows the company is not ignoring this market.

You can check out some of the games and apps Facebook is launching with on its mobile app showcase.

Are you looking forward to using Facebook apps on your smartphone or tablet? Let us know.

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