Twitter App Stores Contacts, User Privacy at Stake

Twitter App Stores Contacts, User Privacy at Stake

Twitter disclosed it uploads and saves iPhone address books with its mobile app, raising questions about how much personal information apps collect without user knowledge.

When iOS users use the “Find Friends” feature in Twitter’s mobile app, the social media site gathers contact information from the phone and stores it for 18 months, the L.A. Times reported.

There’s no evidence Twitter sells the contact lists it collects or uses them in any way, but the recent revelations speak to deeper privacy concerns about mobile app use and underscore a need for clear privacy policies among app developers and tech companies.

App use is on the rise, and research shows people spend more time engaging with mobile apps than surfing the Web. For the most part, users may never suspect their favorite apps might silently collect data from their devices.

Twitter’s admission sheds new light on potential privacy issues about app activity and raises questions about how many popular apps collect data from devices, and how they store, share or use that information.

The news also echoes this week’s controversy around the Path iOS app, which was found to upload and store users’ contact lists. Congress is interrogating Apple over its app security policies, and the inquiry could expand to include other platforms and mobile apps as well.

Lawmakers have already demonstrated a growing concern over mobile data and privacy. Last year, Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.) wrote to Apple and Google asking them to clarify app privacy policies, calling for “clear and understandable” language and requiring developers to divulge how apps treat users’ personal information.

Since then, companies such as Google and Facebook overhauled their privacy policies and reached settlements with the Federal Trade Commission agreeing to periodic reviews of their overall privacy practices.

Apps, however, could slip through cracks in privacy policies. Some apps might also violate Apple’s rules, which say developers must disclose what activities their apps perform, including data collection.

Twitter says it will adjust the app’s language and will allow people to delete their address book from its servers if they so choose. Updates will retool the “Find Friends” feature to clarify what information it collects and stores. For example, new language will replace “scan your contacts” with “upload your contacts” for iOS and “import your contacts” for Android.

Promised fixes by Twitter and Apple will remedy the immediate issues about contact lists, but larger concerns about how apps treat personal data remain and will likely come under increasing lawmaker scrutiny.

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