Apple now requires developers to submit certain privacy details so that users can make informed choices. Only, this "nutrition label" kind of detail is not being enforced yet, and it will seemingly always rely on developers being honest.
So far it seems to be an oddly half-hearted privacy rule from Apple, which may reflect how it's going to be hard to usefully enforce. Even if Apple does set a cut-off date and remove apps without this privacy information, it is still entirely reliant on developers telling the truth.
That's not to say that developers are untrustworthy. It is to say that any developer intent on being a bad agent is not going to get an attack of the conscience over this.
Hopefully Apple will do spot checks. Hopefully the App Store review team will now have a thorough checklist, and the tools to work through it, as they decide whether to allow new apps on or not.
As these labels start to appear on the App Store, though, here's where to see them. Plus what they mean, and how they can help you decide which apps to use.
How to find the "nutrition label" for an app
- Open the App Store on either iOS or macOS
- Find any app
- Scroll through its detail down to the Information section
- Tap to read it
So you can't bury the policy behind a paywall or require users to buy your app first. Apple also offers the option of adding a separate Privacy Choices link, though.
This again must be to a publicly-accessible site online, but in it developers are encouraged to present information — and allow users to edit it.
"For example, a webpage where users can access their data, request deletion, or make changes," says Apple in its developer documentation.
It is highlighted more than the other details in that section, such as the Category, the Languages, and the Age Rating. However, you're not going to stumble on it by accident.
If you do want to know the privacy details, though, you will find them here. And they are expected to tell you a lot of information that could well affect your buying decision.
How to read the information in these "nutrition labels"
Including some catch-all terms such as "other usage data," Apple lists 34 different types of data whose handling may have to be disclosed. Broadly the issue is that if you collect data from a user — and then do something with it outside your app — you have to say what.
There are exceptions, and Apple allows developers to not reveal them. These include when the user data an app collects "is not used for tracking purposes," or it's clear to the user that they are choosing to offer this information to the developer.
The 34 types of data range from contact information, through health details, and on to what Apple calls "product interaction." It defines this as being "app launches, taps, clicks... or other information about how the user interacts with the app."
There are legitimate reasons for apps to want this data, such as a fitness app requesting access to your health records. What Apple is against is the taking of that data for any other purpose, such as passing to advertisers and marketing firms.
What you should see, and what you will get
In practice, though, what you're going to see may end up being no more useful, or perhaps even accurate, than you might glean now from a developer's website.
WhatsApp has objected to Apple's labels, saying that they could put users off. The company claims that the labels are too broad, and therefore unfair.
"[For instance, while] WhatsApp cannot see people's messages or precise location, we're stuck using the same broad labels with apps that do," said a spokesperson.
Even if Whatsapp's criticism is correct, any greater display of privacy information is a good thing. It may well inform your choice of apps to use, but it would definitely help educate us all to be actively aware of these issues.
So long as the submitted information is correct.