UK Markets closed

Apple bans developers from harvesting user contact details from App Store

Matthew Field
Apple blocked developers from harvesting contacts last week - AFP

Apple has told app developers not to build databases of users' contacts from the App Store or risk being banned, according to its latest rules for developers.

The rule changes mean app developers will no longer be able to gather contact details from users' iPhones, which can include names, phone numbers, email addresses and photos.

The new developer guidelines come after months of criticism for tech companies over user privacy. Facebook has been hit by headlines and political scrutiny over the misuse of data by third-party app developers on the social network. Apple, meanwhile, has emerged relatively unscathed.

The California company has only updated its rules for developers to prevent the hoarding of user data and emailing or texting their contacts out of the blue, three months after the Cambridge Analytica scandal hit headlines.

The "data use and sharing" section of Apple's developer guidelines was extensively updated last week, shortly after the introduction of new data privacy rules in Europe.

At a glance | Your data rights under GDPR

The rules now ban developers from building apps that harvest contacts "for sale/distribution to third parties". It also bans users from gaining consent from users to collect data about other apps on the user's iPhone.

The rules block developers from using the data to contact other users without explicit permission from the user. The changes mean app developers cannot gain access to user data and then use it for a purpose they hadn't already gained permission for.

Data gathered by iOS apps could, therefore, be used for marketing or attempting to rapidly grow apps. One iOS app developer told Bloomberg they could previously "instantly transfer all the contacts info into some random server or upload it to Dropbox if I wanted to, the very moment a user says okay to giving contacts permission. Apple doesn’t track it, nor do they know where it went."

Technology intelligence - newsletter promo - EOA

The news comes after Apple used its annual developers conference earlier this month to attack Facebook's privacy record. Apple said it will update its browser technology to shut down "like" and "share" buttons which can be used to track users around the internet.