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RBC looks to clear the air on mobile app privacy fears

A Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) logo is seen at a branch in Toronto.

© Mark Blinch / Reuters/Mark Blinch /REUTERS

Facing customer complaints about the privacy settings in its new mobile banking app, Royal Bank of Canada promises that it does not sell client data and guarantees that its requests for access to information on the mobile devices simply lets the app function as advertised.

The concerns emerged this week after RBC launched an updated version of its mobile banking app. Customers with smartphones powered by Google Inc.'s Android operating system who attempted to install the program quickly realized RBC requested permission to access their call logs and contacts, as well as pinpoint their location via GPS.

These requests prompted some users to fear that RBC is "spying on us" and that the bank would share their private information with other people or companies.

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RBC counters such claims, stressing that that the app "requires access to only limited information on your mobile device in order to provide you with the best mobile banking experience possible," a spokesperson wrote in an e-mail.

"To be clear, RBC does not sell this information."

Mobile privacy concerns are a hot topics as companies add new features to apps to appeal to clients who use smartphones for their daily activities. A major dust-up emerged this past summer, when a new Android app – created to give users access to a new album from hip-hop artist Jay-Z – required many of the same permissions that the RBC app requests.

Users took to the Internet to voice their complaints, and after an initial silence, Jay-Z finally weighed in on Twitter, responding to a fan's questions about how he feels about the privacy settings. "sux must do better," he wrote.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce has also had to explain similar privacy questions stemming from its own mobile banking app. To calm clients, the bank set up a website to address each of its permissions. For instance, the app seeks to determine GPS locations in order to find the nearest branch for its users, and it needs access to the phone's memory card because it has "a minimal amount of images that are stored locally on the device to ensure they load faster."

RBC said it is currently creating a new site to address the permissions that its own app requests. The page is expected to be ready within 48 hours, and will explain some of the wording, some of which the bank blames on the software platform. "The mobile device provider sets the language for the categories of data being requested and RBC does not have the ability to be more specific about the data we request," the spokesperson wrote. By simply explaining why each request is both necessary and safe, the bank hopes the fears will subside.

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About the Author
Reporter and Streetwise columnist

Tim Kiladze is a business reporter with The Globe and Mail. Before crossing over to journalism, he worked in equity capital markets at National Bank Financial and in fixed-income sales and trading at RBC Dominion Securities. Tim graduated from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and also earned a Bachelor in Commerce in finance from McGill University. More

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