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Friday, February 01, 2013
FTC Asks App Developers To Improve Privacy Disclosures


The Federal Trade Commission on Friday issued a staff report recommending ways that key players in the rapidly expanding mobile marketplace can better inform consumers about their data practices.

The report makes recommendations for critical players in the mobile marketplace: mobile platforms (operating system providers, such as Amazon, Apple, BlackBerry, Google, and Microsoft), application (app) developers, advertising networks and analytics companies, and app developer trade associations. Most of the recommendations involve making sure that consumers get timely, easy-to-understand disclosures about what data they collect and how the data is used.

The report states that mobile technology raises unique privacy concerns. More than other types of technology, mobile devices are typically personal to an individual, almost always on, and with the user. This can facilitate unprecedented amounts of data collection. In addition, since a single mobile device can facilitate data collection and sharing among many entities, consumers may wonder where they should turn if they have questions about their privacy.

The report recommends that mobile platforms should:

- Provide just-in-time disclosures to consumers and obtain their affirmative express consent before allowing apps to access sensitive content like geolocation;
- Consider providing just-in-time disclosures and obtaining affirmative express consent for other content that consumers would find sensitive in many contexts, such as contacts, photos, calendar entries, or the recording of audio or video content;
- Consider developing a one-stop "dashboard" approach to allow consumers to review the types of content accessed by the apps they have downloaded;
- Consider developing icons to depict the transmission of user data;
- Promote app developer best practices. For example, platforms can require developers to make privacy disclosures, reasonably enforce these requirements, and educate app developers;
- Consider providing consumers with clear disclosures about the extent to which platforms review apps prior to making them available for download in the app stores and conduct compliance checks after the apps have been placed in the app stores; and
- Consider offering a Do Not Track (DNT) mechanism for smartphone users. 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.

App developers should:

- Have a privacy policy and make sure it is easily accessible through the app stores;
- Provide just-in-time disclosures and obtain affirmative express consent before collecting and sharing sensitive information (to the extent the platforms have not already provided such disclosures and obtained such consent);
- Improve coordination and communication with ad networks and other third parties that provide services for apps, such as analytics companies, so the app developers can better understand the software they are using and, in turn, provide accurate disclosures to consumers. For example, app developers often integrate third-party code to facilitate advertising or analytics within an app with little understanding of what information the third party is collecting and how it is being used.
- Consider participating in self-regulatory programs, trade associations, and industry organizations, which can provide guidance on how to make uniform, short-form privacy disclosures.

Advertising networks and other third parties should:

- Communicate with app developers so that the developers can provide truthful disclosures to consumers;
- Work with platforms to ensure effective implementation of DNT for mobile.

App developer trade associations, along with academics, usability experts and privacy researchers can:

- Develop short form disclosures for app developers;
- Promote standardized app developer privacy policies that will enable consumers to compare data practices across apps;
- Educate app developers on privacy issues.

"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 states.


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