Apple Gets More Compliant

It may be too soon to say Apple has adopted a less combative approach in the post-Jobs era, but the company has taken three steps in close succession that are at the very least conciliatory. They involve privacy policies on apps, iPad sales in China, and the labor practices of suppliers.

On the app front, Apple has said it will change its policy on allowing applications to access a user’s address book data. It follows complaints that several high-profile applications were accessing such data and uploading it the developers, sometimes without permission. That prompted two Congress members to contact Apple to ask for a response to suggestions that accessing address book data was effectively considered a given among developers.

While Apple pointed out that accessing the details is already technically banned, it’s now agreed to put a physical block on the practice. That means that, as already happens with location data, apps will need to specifically ask and receive user permission to access address books.

Meanwhile the fallout of Apple’s court defeat over the iPad brand name in China continues. As we reported in December, a company based in China and Taiwan was the first to register the name, way back in 2000 (Taiwan) and 2001 (China). The company, Proview, then sold the Taiwan rights to an Apple-controlled corporation in 2006, but no deal took place for the Chinese rights. A court case brought by Apple resulted in a ruling that Proview did indeed still have the Chinese rights.

Apple’s naturally trying to figure out a way to regain the rights and avoid or minimize any royalties or damages it has to pay Proview. However, while it continues to sell the iPad itself in China, in apparent violation of the ruling, it has now forced third-party resellers including Amazon to stop offering the device in the country. Several reports say inside sources believe this is not connected to the Proview case, though there doesn’t seem any other logical explanation.

Proview itself is having little luck persuading customs officials to block official Apple imports of the iPad into China. However, it has persuaded some local authorities to seize a small number of iPads from retail stores.

Staying with China, Apple CEO Tim Cook has addressed the latest in a long line of reports about poor working conditions among Chinese suppliers, most notably Foxconn. He’s vowed to step up monitoring of abuses with what he dubbed “probably the most detailed factory audit in the history of mass manufacturing.”

The company already published an annual report detailing working condition violations among suppliers. Cook says that will now be replaced by monthly updates to increase accountability. He also said that if any supplier is shown to have knowingly hired underage labor (underage by local laws that is), those responsible will be fired.