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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WebOS may be more tenacious that we thought. The Linux-based OS with a rocky history has officially risen from the ashes of HP’s TouchPad bungle to be reborn as an open source project.

HP made the announcement Friday, in the wake of increasing speculation that we would all learn the fate of the beleaguered OS before day’s end.

Introduced by Palm at CES 2009, webOS was on an upward trajectory, first with the launch of the Palm Pre mobile phone and then when HP scooped up a stumbling Palm for $1.2 billion in 2010. Excitement grew to a fever pitch when HP unveiled an aggressive plan to roll WebOS into everything from their printers, to desktops and laptops to new phones and, most importantly, the HP TouchPad.

A few months later, after a somewhat tepid response to HP’s 10.1 inch tablet, HP’s then-CEO Leo Apotheker scuttled the tablet and, it seemed, the WebOS business. A $99 HP TouchPad fire sale over the summer proved that there was still interest in HP’s tablet and, more importantly, the WebOS platform.

But HP’s new CEO Meg Whitman has kept her plans for WebOS vague until now.

The company will now “contribute webOS to open source license” — another way of saying that the code will be available under open source license. HP’s role will be an active one as it continues to contribute development, engineering and support resources.

Next steps include engaging with the open-source community to define the WebOS open source charter and develop a plan for how that will be governed. It will likely run under an Apache-style license.

What does this mean for current TouchPad and Pre owners? Sources tell Mashable that they can expect to receive software updates in the future. In fact, one source told us that this move will accelerate platform and ecosystem development, benefiting current and future users.

“Future” is a clear indication that more HP webOS hardware could be on the radar. HP is not committing to this, though. However, our sources note that the open source nature of the new webOS could drive it onto hardware from a variety of vendors.

Of course, some open source projects can get a bit too open. Some complain that, for example, the Google Android community is forking the code. Certainly, Android developers enjoy reskinning the mobile OS and are often out of step with platform updates found on other Android products.

HP is looking to avoid platform confusion. Our sources indicate that it will use a Redhat/Fedora model, one which more strictly controls enterprise-level Linux. If this works, it means that HP may have final say on what webOS updates look like. That kind of control could mean that future versions of webOS work on existing hardware, like the TouchPad.

Making webOS open source leaves the door, well, open for a variety of options. But is this the magic bullet that will save the platform and put HP’s mobile plans back on track? Let us know in the comments.

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Not very long ago when we were planning the launch of our humble magazine BuildMobile, which you are reading right now, the content strategy included coverage of the nebulous WebOS mobile operating system. Come launch time, there wasn’t enough traction to include it in our platform categories, but we were hopeful for the future. WebOS in 60 Seconds WebOS is a mobile operating system based on the Linux Kernal Initially developed by Palm and first released in January 2009 Acquired by Hewlett-Packard in April 2010 for US$1.2b WebOS uses a “card” UI with a left-to-right flick for app swithcing, flick up for “off” The WebOS broswer, called simply “Web” is based on the WebKit layout engine WebOS “Synergy” feature integrates information from many cloud services into a single list Devices include the Pre , the Pixi and the Veer phones, then the HP TouchPad HP announced in March 2011 that WebOS would run within Windows by the end of 2011 On 18th August 2011 HP announced it would discontinue operations for WebOS devices Potentially even more HP TouchPads will be made and sold at a loss Web Standards based Native Apps A feature that was full of promise, and partly responsible for the underdog adoration WebOS attracted from developers worldwide, is that web technologies like HTML, CSS and Javascript are first class tools for developing native apps for the platform, with full access to hardware APIs like the camera.

BuildMobile: The Future of WebOS

The body of WebOS is still warm, one day after Hewlett-Packard announced it would cease developing the platform — indeed, HP may yet find a buyer who can bring it back to life. But Microsoft is wasting no time in luring the mourners away with free gifts and offers of support.

Microsoft’s chief Windows Phone evangelist, Brandon Watson, tweeted this afternoon: “To Any Published WebOS Devs: We’ll give you what you need to be successful on #WindowsPhone, phones, dev tools, and training, etc.”

The latest version of Windows Phone 7, codename Mango, has reached the release stage and will be officially launched this fall — so it’s prime time for Redmond to try wooing developers. Mango adds features such as multitasking and cloud integration to what has so far been a fairly moribund platform.

And it looks as if Watson has had a smattering of interest. He spent the afternoon tweeting the same reply to inquiries: “Send me an email, tell me where you are located, and we connect you to one of our mobile champs for some personal attention.” (Watson’s email, for those interested, is thephone@microsoft dot com.)

Windows Phone may be among the least popular smartphone platforms at the moment, but analysts expect that to change in short order. A recent prediction from Gartner says WP7 will double its market share in 2012 to 10%, and hit 20% by 2015. If those numbers are for real, app developers who get in early could be looking at a gold rush as new users pour in. And Microsoft, flush with cash and desperate for attention in the mobile space, is hardly likely to abandon the platform any time soon. That will come as a comfort to anyone currently feeling burned by HP.

Will Microsoft’s tactics work? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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We’ve been expecting HP to show off at least one webOS-based tablet at a February 9 event. Now it looks like Engadget has gotten some leaked renders and marketing materials that show off some of the company’s tablet strategy.

When HP acquired Palm last year, it was clear that the company saw plans for webOS beyond just the smartphone. The company affirmed its plans to enter the tablet space in July.

Now Engadget is publishing information from a “trusted tipster” that sheds some light on HP’s plans.

The tipster reveals that HP is planning not one, but two tablets: a 9-inch model codenamed Topaz and a 7-inch model called Opal.

The rendered images Engadget obtained show off the Topaz, and the unit looks like a cross between an iPad and a Palm Pre. From the renders, it looks like the device will not have any physical buttons (capacitive perhaps) and will include a front-facing camera.

The render also shows off what looks like webOS on the device itself. Perhaps more than any other mobile OS, we expect webOS to have the easiest transition to larger-sized devices, so this makes sense.

While specifics like price and specifications weren’t revealed, Engadget did get a hold of what looks like an internal slide with a tentative release date slated for this September. This slide was for the Opal, so perhaps HP will be releasing the Topaz tablet more quickly.

Our only concern for HP is that announcing a device more than six months in advance, especially given the competition from — well, everyone — could wind up putting the company at a disadvantage.

Although webOS is better designed to scale to multiple device sizes than many of its competitors are, the lack of brand recognition in the smartphone market — when compared to iOS, Android and even BlackBerry — may limit some of the initial customer base.

We still think the potential for a webOS tablet is immense and we look forward to seeing what HP unveils next month.

Image courtesy of Engadget

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