In late October 2012, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris began sending letters to approximately 100 mobile app operators, informing them that they are not in compliance with the California Online Privacy Protection Act (“CalOPPA”). Pursuant to CalOPPA, “an operator of a commercial Web site or online service that collects personally identifiable information through the Internet about individual consumers residing in California who use or visit its commercial Web site or online service” must post a privacy policy that contains specified elements. A mobile app arguably could be an “online service” under CalOPPA, which provides that an online service operator that collects “personally identifiable information” and “fails to post its policy within 30 days after being notified of noncompliance” is in violation of CalOPPA. The law affects a wide range of mobile app operators because of its very broad definition of “personally identifiable information,” which includes any “individually identifiable information about an individual consumer collected online by the operator from that individual and maintained by the operator in an accessible form,” such as a name, an email address or any other identifier “that permits the physical or online contacting of a specific individual.”

The notifications of noncompliance state:

“An app’s commercial operator must therefore conspicuously post its privacy policy in a means that is reasonably accessible to the consumer. Having a Web site with the applicable privacy policy conspicuously posted may be adequate, but only if a link to that Web site is ‘reasonably accessible’ to the user within the app.”

If a mobile app already contains a reasonably accessible link to a privacy policy, compliance with the law may involve only ensuring that the privacy policy contains the elements required by CalOPPA. Operators whose apps contain no such link and no built-in mechanism for remotely adding one may need to publish an updated version of the app for users to download; it remains to be seen how the Attorney General will deal with these apps as the 30-day deadlines for compliance begin to pass.