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How’s this for timing? Two Apple patent applications, made public just this morning, go out of their way to point out the importance of getting user consent before collecting and using personal data.

The patent applications, originally submitted in August 2010, deal with ways of segmenting the population to target content, such advertising. They’re unrelated to the recent dustup over the discovery that many third-party iPhone apps have been storing personal address books from their users on their servers without users knowing what was going on.

A section included in both patent filings reads …

For example, personal information from users should be collected for legitimate and reasonable uses of the entity and not shared or sold outside of those legitimate uses. Further, such collection should occur only after receiving the informed consent of the users.

Clearly, based on that, the company has long understood the importance of that consent, which raises the question of how and why app makers were able to get away with the undisclosed address-book storage.

Amid questions from Congress and suggestions that it wasn’t doing enough to stop the practice, Apple spoke out on the address-book issue yesterday, and promised that consent would be required.

Company spokesman Tom Neumayr told AllThingsD: “Apps that collect or transmit a user’s contact data without their prior permission are in violation of our guidelines.” He added that “any app wishing to access contact data will require explicit user approval in a future software release.”

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