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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It seems like only yesterday that the Windows Phone Marketplace hit 40,000 apps — actually, it was Nov. 17 — and now Microsoft’s mobile app store has just passed 50,000, according to All About Windows Phone.

Microsoft currently gives an official count of “more than 35,000″ apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace, a company spokesperson told Mashable. In the past, Microsoft has said that it doesn’t count extremely simple apps such as wallpapers or multiple versions (i.e. a paid game that also provides a “lite” version) as individual apps, which may explain the large discrepancy between the official number and the estimate.

In either case, it’s a fraction of the number of apps in Apple’s App Store or the Android Market (about 600,000 and 500,000 apps, respectively). However, even though the number isn’t large by app-store standards, the Windows Phone Marketplace is growing rapidly. The platform hit 50,000 apps sooner than all platforms except iOS, in just 14 months, the report notes. It took Android 19 months to reach that mark.

Microsoft’s app store passed the milestone sooner than the site predicted, and it’s seen a strong uptick in the number of apps submitted and approved in the past few weeks. The number of apps is growing at a rate of 265 items per day (see the graph below).

windows phone uptick

All About Windows Phone chalks up the platform’s growth spurt to the increased availability of Windows Phones (the number of countries recently went up from 16 to 35) and the highly anticipated release of Nokia’s Windows Phones, such as the Lumina 710 in the U.S. However, those events had been anticipated for a while, and it doesn’t fully explain the sudden interest from developers, which isn’t directly related to the spread of the platform.

It’s possible the release of the developer preview of Windows 8 may have been a factor. Since both Windows Phone and Windows 8 share the Metro user interface, more than a few Windows 8 developers who had never created apps in Metro may have been persuaded to give Windows Phone a try.

Even though the Windows Phone Marketplace is taking off, Microsoft faces many challenges before its mobile platform will seriously challenge Apple’s or Google’s. Charlie Kindel, the former general manager of Windows Phone’s developer experience, theorizes that Microsoft doesn’t curry favor among carriers and manufacturers the same way Apple and Android have, and the whole platform suffers, even though, as Kindel says, it provides a superior experience in many ways.

At least developers seem to be finally warming up to the platform. Are you a Windows Phone developer or customer? Why do you favor it? And if you’re not a fan, why not? Let us know in the comments.

[via TechCrunch]

More About: apps, developers, Metro, windows phone

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