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Develop for Privacy Challenge: Build Tools to Improve Mobile Privacy

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February 7, 2011

With all their convenience, smartphones can also collect and share vast amounts of data that can paint a detailed picture about someone’s life: your current location, where you have been, who you know, what you search for online, and more. Without strong privacy protections, smartphones and other mobile devices can pose a real threat to your privacy.

The ACLU is working with companies and other organizations to reform our nation’s outdated electronic privacy law and take a stand for privacy. But we need more tools that allow people to regain control of their personal information. And we need software developers who are up for a real challenge: building the tools that help ordinary users understand and protect their privacy in the world we live in.

That’s why we are announcing the first Develop for Privacy Challenge, a competition that invites developers to build apps that will improve privacy on smartphones and other mobile devices.

We wouldn’t build a house with no locks on the doors just because burglary is illegal. And we shouldn’t trust our data privacy to hollow promises, especially when the law is seriously outdated. We need tools that help the average user understand and control how their personal information is collected and used.

And that’s where innovative developers come in.

The ACLU of Northern California and the ACLU of Washington, along with the Tor Project and with assistance from the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s Office of Ontario, have organized the Develop for Privacy Challenge to draw out the best mobile apps for protecting privacy. We’re looking for creative ways to educate users about the meaning of the choices they make, sophisticated tools for making sure that communications are private, and anything else that helps users reclaim control of the content and personal information that smartphones and mobile devices collect and share.

Our panel of expert judges (including Jacob Appelbaum of the Tor Project; Caspar Bowden of Microsoft; Chris Hoofnagle of University of California, Berkeley; Yoshi Kohno of the University of Washington; Jules Polonetsky of the Future of Privacy Forum; and Kai Rannenberg of Goethe-Universität) will evaluate the submissions. The winner will be announced at an event in Las Vegas coinciding with the DEFCON and Black Hat conferences. And we’ll put our organization and our partners behind the winning app, to ensure its wide distribution and impact.

To learn more, visit the Develop for Privacy Challenge site. To the developers out there: Your app, your skills, and your creativity can make a difference—so please take the challenge and join the fight for digital privacy. We’re accepting submissions through May 31.

Privacy doesn’t need to be an afterthought when we build new technologies. Rather, privacy can and should be a fundamental building block. The Develop for Privacy Challenge calls upon software and hardware developers to design strong privacy-enhancing technologies into their systems from the very beginning. When privacy is built in, we don’t need to worry about whether an application is unknowingly broadcasting all of our data, because it can’t.

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