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Google Play shares too much personal info, app developer says

Some defend Google, but privacy experts say it's a problem

By Taylor Armerding, CSO
February 15, 2013 08:00 AM ET

CSO - Google is in the information business. But one app developer is accusing it of providing him with "TMI" -- too much information -- about his customers. And this sharing of user information from Google Play has reignited an online debate over privacy protection and notification online.

[SCROOGLED: Microsoft launched privacy petition drive to stop Google]

Dan Nolan, an Android app developer, wrote in a blog post on Wednesday that he found what he called "an insane thing" when he logged into his Google Play account to update payment information.

Nolan had created the Android version of a "Paul Keating Insult Generator," after noticing that the iOS version had hit No. 1 in the Australian App Store. Paul Keating is a former Australian prime minister.

In his post, Nolan warned his customers, "If you bought the app on Google Play (even if you cancelled the order) I have your email address, your suburb, and in many instances your full name."

Every app sold through Google Play [http://www.csoonline.com/article/719327/many-android-apps-from-google-play-security-challenged] gives the developer this information, he wrote, "with no indication that this information is actually being transferred."

"[It's] a massive oversight by Google," he wrote. "Under no circumstances should I be able to get the information of the people who are buying my apps unless they opt into it and it's made crystal clear to them that I'm getting this information."

Indeed, part of Google's privacy policy says, "We will share personal information with companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google when we have your consent to do so. We require opt-in consent for the sharing of any sensitive personal information."

But not everybody thinks this is a problem -- any more than any customer giving a merchant his name, address, phone number and credit card number when making an online purchase.

Brian Donohue wrote at Threatpost that Google had no official comment, but he quoted an unnamed source saying this has been a long-time policy and is necessary for tax purposes because the app developers are the so-called "merchants of record," unlike Apple's App Store, where Apple is the merchant of record, and therefore its developers don't need user information.

[Also see: Avoiding basic BYOD blunders

The source also said Google's Developer Distribution Agreement requires developers to protect the private information of users, and puts the notification burden on them. "[You] must make the users aware that the information will be available to your Product, and you must provide legally adequate privacy notice and protection for those users," it reads, in part.

Bogdan "Bob" Botezatu, a senior e-threat analyst at Bitdefender said an email address is needed for the vendor to get in touch with a user if a side issue, like a code compromise or data breach occurs. "Other personal information is necessary for billing and records keeping," he said.

"[This] is a transaction between the application vendor and the customer, while Google is just acting as a payment processor and delivery channel," he said.

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