App Store explicitly bans developers from harvesting Contacts databases

Apple recently changed its App Store policies in a move intended to bolster privacy, specifically regarding apps that access user contact databases.

As reported by Bloomberg, Apple is cracking down on a contacts harvesting technique that has been in use for years:

Developers ask users for access to their phone contacts, then use it for marketing and sometimes share or sell the information — without permission from the other people listed on those digital address books. On both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, the world’s largest smartphone operating systems, the tactic is sometimes used to juice growth and make money.

Apple already makes contact sharing an opt-in option for users, but what apps can do with those contacts after they’re accessed has been less restricted until now.

Apple had announced several privacy-focused changes at its WWDC conference this past week, however, what it didn’t emphasize was its updates to the App Store Review Guidelines.

Sharing and selling that database with third parties is also now forbidden. And an app can’t get a user’s contact list, say it’s being used for one thing, and then use it for something else — unless the developer gets consent again. Anyone caught breaking the rules may be banned.

While this is a great move for the future of the App Store, Apple can’t simply go back and retrieve all the information developers already have on users’ friends and family. Users can, however, go into Settings > Privacy > Contacts and turn off future access to contact information for an app.

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