Mobile Applications & Mobile App Development in Singapore | Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) 2012 & Cloud Control

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A software program that can be downloaded and accessed directly using a phone or a mobile device, like a tablet, is generally known as Mobile Application (or Mobile App). From the perspective of mobile app developers, mobile applications form an important part of the booming mobile segment, which has gained tremendous momentum due to ever increasing sophistication of mobile devices and improving capabilities of wireless networks.

Singapore Mobile App Development

The first and foremost requirement before developing a mobile app is to have a viable concept in place, which may be a total game changer with unique and novel characteristics, or an enhancement / improvement over existing apps that adds more features and makes them more user friendly. Accordingly, while finalizing the concept, a lot of research is required to analyse existing apps to ensure the novelty and utility of the proposed app.

Another factor that is required to be considered before developing an app is mobile app monetization, i.e. whether the app will be a free app, a paid app, or a combination of both (freemium app). Generally, a freemium app provides a product or service, such as software, media, games or web services, free of charge, but a premium is charged for advanced features, functionality, or virtual goods. To read more about freemium model, you can refer to this TechCrunch’s post.

Deciding the right platform to launch the mobile app is very crucial. The major platforms include Apple, Android, Windows Mobile and Blackberry. Each of these comes as a package with its own advantages and limitations that may be understood in detail by analysing the respective Software Development Kits (SDKs).

After developing a mobile app based on above-mentioned parameters and other related considerations, issues related to data privacy and cloud control may arise and it is always advisable to resolve those at the earliest. Generally, such issues involve understanding of legal and regulatory policies, which vary for each jurisdiction. Hiring a legal consultant with adequate knowledge of cyber laws is always advisable.

In Asia, Singapore is the best place to study future of mobile marketing and commerce, which significantly define monetization of mobile apps. According to a Singapore Mobile App study, Singapore M commerce is expected to be worth S$3Billion by 2015. Currently half of all online shoppers are mobile shoppers, according to a Forrester survey and that is growing exponentially. Almost a million Singaporeans made a purchase through a mobile device in 2011 according to the survey and that number has grown dramatically in 2012. Interestingly Singaporeans spent a third more from their tablets than they do on their mobile and they spend on more luxurious items on their tablets such as technology and cars.

Usage of most of the mobile apps involve mining of information, including personal data of users as many apps are designed to retrieve information stored on mobile devices, which may include location based data, photos, contact information, and the like. Such information is then sent to remote servers located at a different location, which is generally referred to as ‘cloud computing’, with a view to provide multiple services to the users, such as, mobile commerce, storage, gaming, social media, and the like.

From legal perspective, it becomes very important for the companies and app developers to consider the type of information that is being procured, stored, and managed by various mobile apps as well as how such information is handled by the application programming interface (API). Accordingly, mobile apps certainly fall under the purview of data privacy laws. One such law has been introduced in Singapore, known as Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (“PDPA”).

The Personal Data Protection Act 2012 of Singapore is aimed at protecting individual’s personal data against misuse. It provides provisions for a national Do-Not-Call registry and a new enforcement agency will be tasked to regulate the management of personal data by businesses and impose financial penalties.

Generally, personal data is defined as data that relates to an individual, whether the data is stored in electronic or non-electronic form. The Personal Data Protection Act 2012 of Singapore is further aimed at providing individuals more control over their personal data, as they have to give consent and be informed of the purposes for which organizations collect, use, or disclose the information. In addition, the individuals may also seek compensation for damages directly suffered from a breach of the data protection rules through private rights of action.

With a view to tackle the issue of unsolicited telemarketing calls and messages, a National Do-Not-Call (DNC) Registry will be created by early 2014 in Singapore. The registry prohibits organizations in Singapore from sending specified messages to any Singapore telephone number registered with the DNC, unless the owner of the telephone number has given consent to be contacted for marketing purposes. Additionally, a Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) will also be set up to serve as the country’s main authority on matters relating to personal data protection and enforce data protection rules. If an organization is non-compliant, the PDPC may impose a maximum financial penalty of S$1 million (US$818,150). The full copy of The Personal Data Protection Act 2012 of Singapore may be accessed here.

The act comes into effect in 2013, with an 18 month sunrise period for organisations to comply with data protection requirements. Mobile app developers and owners should now consider implication of data protection laws at the early stages of development, so that there are no legal hassles at the time of scaling up and monetizing apps, seeking funding and launching global operations.

As the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 of Singapore governs the collection, use and disclosure of “personal data” by organisations, it should be ensured that what exactly includes personal data as most mobile apps collect information from users, but not all the mobile apps collect personal data. As per Section 2 PDPA, “Personal data” means “data, whether true or not, about an individual who can be identified – (a) from that data; or (b) from that data and other information to which the organisation has or is likely to have access”. In case of apps utilizing crowd-sourced data, including location-based data and user-generated content, some of the information may constitute personal data.

Moreover, as per PDPA, consent is required before the collection, use or disclosure of personal data. However, there are exceptions where no consent is required. For example, one exception is that no consent is required for the collection, use and disclosure of personal data which is publicly available. Such publicly available information may include data available over various public websites, blogs and social networks.

Jurisdiction wise, the provisions of PDPA may be applicable to mobile app development companies operating outside of Singapore, as the PDPA applies to private sector organisations whether or not formed, resident or having an office or place of business in Singapore. It also applies to individuals who are using the data other than for domestic or personal use. Accordingly, the PDPA would be applicable to mobile app developers and owners who offer their apps to the Singapore market through the Singapore Apple App store, the Google Play store, the Blackberry World, or the Microsoft’s Windows App store.

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Contributors: Prity Khastgir and Rahul Dev 

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