FTC issues app privacy guidelines, proposes ‘Do Not Track’ for mobile

By , Feb 1, 2013

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A patchwork of online privacy measures should be standardized to form a ‘Do Not Track’ list for mobile app users. In guidelines issued Friday, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission says mobile devices such as Apple’s iPhone “facilitate unprecedented amounts of data collection.”

Both devices and app developers should obtain users’ consent before obtaining personal information such as location, photos or contacts. The set of guidelines accompanied Path’s $800,000 settlement with the FTC over grabbing iOS users’ personal address books without their consent…

Despite some efforts by Apple and others to head off federal legislation governing app privacy, the FTC recommended a mobile version of one privacy plan already being considered for desktop web browsers. A version of Firefox for mobile devices already contains a “Do Not Track” button while Apple lets iOS users toggle ad tracking in Settings.

“A mobile DNT mechanism, which a majority of the Commission has endorsed, would allow consumers to choose to prevent tracking by ad networks or other third parties as they navigate among apps on their phones,” The Verge quotes the guidelines.

From FTC’s guidelines:

FTC staff strongly encourages companies in the mobile ecosystem to work expeditiously to implement the recommendations in this report. Doing so likely will result in enhancing the consumer trust that is so vital to companies operating in the mobile environment.

The guidelines come as private social network Path wrote an $800,000 check to settle the government agency’s claim that the privacy of children was invaded by “collecting personal information without their parents’ consent.” 

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The FTC proposes a mobile Do Not Track (DNT) mechanism to let people choose to prevent tracking by ad networks or other third parties as they navigate among apps on their phones.

It also notes that platform providers like Apple “can require developers to make privacy disclosures, reasonably enforce these requirements, and educate app developers”.

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As for app developers, “they should have a privacy policy and make sure it is easily accessible through the app stores”.

Along with having to pay a huge chunk of change, the company must put new privacy guidelines in place as well as undergoing privacy exams for the next 20 years.

Predictably, Path tried to put the best face on the FTC’s smack-down, announcing the privacy problems were in the company’s long-past history and resolved before the government called them on the carpet.

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The government’s report finally takes into account the nation’s move toward mobile. After protecting consumers from false TV advertising and annoying telephone come-ons, it is only right that attention turns to smartphones and tablets.

For some time, advertisers have followed consumers from one website to another, accumulating purchasing habits. Until now, only the ethics of technology corporations have stood between the zeal of mobile marketers and an increasing wealth of personal data stored on mobile devices.

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The only question is whether Apple, Google and others step up and adopt the government guidelines or frame the FTC action as an intrusion into the Wild West mentality of mobile commerce.

Do you think developers and platform providers like Apple should be required by law to improve mobile privacy disclosures?

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