Here's why you can't trust App Store 'nutrition labels' ... yet

Here’s why you can’t trust App Store ‘nutrition labels’ … yet


privacy WWDC
Apple talks a lot about user privacy, but its App Store privacy “nutrition labels” need some work.
Photo: Apple

Apple’s new privacy “nutrition labels” in the App Store might not be as useful as hoped. Spot checks by a Washington Post writer turned up applications with incorrect information.

The basic problem? Apple asked developers to describe their own privacy practices. And some of them were less than honest.

Take Apple’s privacy ‘nutrition labels’ with a grain of salt

The Post’s Geoffrey Fowler tested a couple dozen iPhone apps. He found about half of them were “misleading or flat-out inaccurate” about how much data they collect about users.

The app “nutritional labels,” which first appeared in late 2020, are part of Apple’s broader push to protect users’ privacy. As with App Tracking Transparency, a controversial addition coming to iOS 14 this spring, Apple’s goal is to give users concrete information about how their personal data is being used by tech companies.

Facebook and other critics say Apple’s latest privacy moves will hurt small businesses and the advertising industry at large. Cupertino, as per usual, comes down on the side of securing user privacy.

However, Apple’s push for total App Store transparency apparently suffers from a predictable problem: You can’t necessarily trust developers to be truthful about their products.

Calling out inaccurate App Store privacy info

In his report in The Washington Post, Fowler described working with Disconnect, maker of the anti-surveillance app Privacy Pro, to discover third-party iOS applications that’s weren’t living up to their privacy labels.

Fowler then contacted the developers. In some cases, they changed their labels. In others, they updated their software to match the privacy promise. But others didn’t respond at all.

While Apple left it up to developers to compile information for their privacy nutrition labels, Cupertino said it is checking up on them. A spokeswoman told the reporter, “Apple conducts routine and ongoing audits of the information provided and we work with developers to correct any inaccuracies. Apps that fail to disclose privacy information accurately may have future app updates rejected, or in some cases, be removed from the App Store entirely if they don’t come into compliance.”

A recent addition

The labels at the heart of the controversy haven’t been around very long. Apple told the world about the feature at last year’s Worldwide Developers Conference. In November 2020, Apple told developers they must provide publicly viewable data about their apps’ privacy and data policies. The labels started appearing in the App Store the following month.

The goal is for users, and potential users, to learn “the data types the app may collect, and whether that data is linked to them or used to track them,” according to Apple. Apple displays the information on the software’s page on the App Store.


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