A new Californian law requires all Android and iOS app makers (and more) to create privacy policies for their apps.

More than ever, privacy online has become a huge concern for Internet users, lawmakers, and consumer advocacy groups. To make sure it remains a concern for app developers and big-name tech companies, California’s Office of the Attorney General has reached agreements with the leading smartphone app platforms to require app makers to have privacy policies for apps. The act is called California’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

Specifically Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Research in Motion (RIM), Amazon, and Microsoft have all agreed with the state’s attorney general to enforce this new policy in the companies’ app stores. For every uploaded app to the store, the developer must also upload a privacy policy for users to read and agree to before they can distribute the app within the store.

This comes on the heels of the news that some apps had been using customers’ address book information without notifying the users before the app was purchased and downloaded. Prior to today’s passing of the act, mobile apps weren’t subject to any kind of privacy protections.

On top of apps, now websites and any other online services will also be required to notify users if any personally identifiable information is gathered from users while using the service or site. Not only do the services and apps have to conspicuously display their privacy policies, but companies will also have to disclose what exactly is being collected, who it is being shared with, and how users can look at or change the data that is stored about them.

It’s a little surprising that these six major companies agreed to this, given that doing so now requires some redesigning for all the platforms’ app stores. Although the heaviest requirements fall to app developers, these six major companies are required to monitor their app store for privacy policies being posted with uploaded apps, not just malware or other violations according to the developer agreement.

For a company like Apple, which reviews every app before it’s made available in the store anyway, this new law probably won’t impact the process that much. For the hands-off approach that Google takes when apps are uploaded, this new feature to monitor will require some reconfiguration from the company. Failure to provide a privacy policy will not only earn the app developers themselves up to a $500,000 fine (according to California’s Unfair Competition Law and/or False Advertising Law), but the platform providers as well (i.e. Google, Apple, RIM, etc.).

So up to this point, you’ve been thinking “I don’t live in California, why does this matter?” It matters because even though the law is a state law, because the Internet is nation-wide, the law applies to all app developers, no matter their place of residence.

Obviously this is a tall order to expect platform providers and developers to adhere to right away. The state Attorney General’s office is allowing the six big wigs six months to get going on making all of the app stores conform to the new standards, and then they will reevaluate the progress.

California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris first started this push to protect mobile app customers last August. She realized there was ambiguity in the California Online Privacy Protection Act when it came to mobile apps, so Harris contacted the big names in the industry to try and start a movement to better inform mobile app users.

Despite the work required from the mobile app platform providers, all seem to be on board with helping customers in whatever way possible. A popular watchdog group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) executive director Mark Rotenberg pointed out that “Privacy policies do not protect privacy,” and would rather that the kind of data that apps have access to is limited in the first place.

Read more about recent privacy policy news on our blog, like Google’s new privacy policy, or the latest hole in the web browser Safari’s security.