FTC issues mobile privacy policy guidelines

FTC issues mobile privacy policy guidelines

Summary: The Federal Trade Commission has issued a set of guidelines in the hope of improving user privacy.

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a new set of guidelines in order to try and secure user privacy in a move that could affect companies including Apple and Microsoft.

The FTC's guidelines -- although currently non-binding -- are directed at firms that develop mobile platforms and applications. Published on Friday, the report includes a number of recommendations for mobile platform developers and providers, further highlighting the FTC's focus on trying to secure user privacy as more people in the U.S. turn to smartphones and tablets.

"The mobile world is expanding and innovating at breathtaking speed, allowing consumers to do things that would have been hard to imagine only a few years ago," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. "These best practices will help to safeguard consumer privacy and build trust in the mobile marketplace, ensuring that the market can continue to thrive."

Based on data gathered by trade associations, academic, privacy groups and the FTC's own experience with mobile privacy issues, the report recommends that consumers should have to actively consent before apps are allowed to access "sensitive" information such as geolocation, contacts, photos or media recordings. In addition, the FTC suggests that a "dashboard" could be put in place which would allow mobile users to see exactly what content is accessed by downloaded apps.

The agency asks mobile platform and app developers to consider implementing "Do Not Track" features, so third-parties including advertisers would not be able to track users as they switch between different apps. In addition, the report's guidelines suggest that apps should include easily accessible privacy policies.

In addition, the report asks for the creation of standardized app developer privacy policies and further education in privacy issues to protect consumers, with additional short-form privacy disclosures and self-regulatory bodies suggested as potential options.

According to the FTC, approximately 217 million smartphones were purchased in Q4 2012. It is not just adults purchasing these products that are to be protected, but children are also a spotlight issue for the FTC as mobile technology expands. Last year, the agency warned tech firms including Apple and Google that they have to do more to protect the data of minors, and on Friday the FTC said it fined Path $800,000 over allegations that the social networking app collected the data of children without parental consent.

However, it is not only tech giants such as Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft which should take note, as smaller firms who create apps for mobile devices may also find themselves in a future firing line unless these non-binding suggestions are taken into consideration. The guidelines are also aimed at advertising networks, analytics firms and trade associations.

"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. Moving forward, as the mobile landscape evolves, the FTC will continue to closely monitor developments in this space and consider additional ways it can help businesses effectively provide privacy information to consumers,” the report concludes.

Topics: IT Policies, Government US, Legal, Mobility

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6 comments
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  • Time for DNT legislation

    When nearly half of Americans feel that they have little or no control of their personal information on their mobile devices, clearly there is a problem. It’s been nearly a year since the FTC first called on industry leaders to develop a voluntary DNT system, and very little has happened. If industry can’t set the rules for itself, it is time for the FTC to push for DNT legislation that would protect consumers online.

    CALPIRG also recommends that app developers adopt the recommendations based on the Fair Information Practice Principles — a set of widely accepted principles for safeguarding individuals’ personal information.

    CALPIRG therefore encourages players in the mobile app world to abide by the following principles:
    • Transparency: Inform consumers about how you are using or transmitting user data.
    • Necessity: Don’t access more data than you need for the purpose of the app.
    • User-Control: Give consumers the fullest possible control over how their data is used.
    • Security: Use reasonable and up-to-date security protocols to safeguard data.

    Read more online at http://www.calpirg.org/resources/caf/mobile-app-resource-page
    jf_CALPIRG
    • More legislation? I think NOT!

      Nice in concept, but the existing legislation for such things as DNC lists, the Privacy of Minors Act etc, NONE work NOW, there is not one hope on earth that additional legislation will stop the advertisers such as FaceBook who feel they OWN you, and your personal data NOW. I'd like to think Americans WOULD lead the way in Privacy Matters, but the past is a very GOOD example they will NOT. After 25 years of life in Ukraine, i see the USA thru different eyes, and on each trip back, i am bombarded by vulgar offensive phone calls, mass marketers who know full well they are NOT ALLOWED to call during certain hours, or who call, then NEVER respond if i DO answer, they are just polling and trolling, to validate active numbers they can RE-SELL in other lists. NO THANKS, no more time and billions of my tax dollars wasted on legislation that can be IGNORED by those with the money and power and inside track to the White House, such as Mr. Z and others of his ilk.. Simply arrest those who disobey the EXISTING laws, THAT would discourage new violations.
      LyonsAire CEO
      • Just because

        It isn't working so far, doesn't mean that we can't push for something that DOES work. In fact, we should push all the harder for it.

        Of course, for the side of phone-calls.. I have a very, VERY simple self-rule. If I don't know the #.. I DON'T ANSWER. If it's important enough to reach me, they can leave a message. If they don't. I don't care. You'd be surprised at how well that ends a lot of spammy calls. If they call 10 times and know all they'll ever get is voicemail. They tend to stop calling.
        jonrosen
  • privacy legislation

    I for one am puzzled about the fuss over privacy and specifically regarding geolocation. It appears to be a euphemism for protecting marital infidelity. It may be good for those engaging in infidelity but why is government so interested in promoting deviant behavior.
    hareshp408
  • It Is A Sad Day

    When the only thing that can come to one's mind concerning tracking is infidelity. There are millions of single people who do not want to be tracked. Where is the infidelity in that???? You have the right to your opinions and if you post them I have a right to critique them. I guess small minds make small requests. Peace!
    eargasm
  • cell phones

    they are crap you can not get the cell phone companys to replace the cell phone if you are disabled at all they keep setting you back for a year then no warrant is left then they will tell you have to buy a new one for 199 to 399 dollars what a rip off that is crap
    ttx19