Tech Group Backs FTC Privacy Guidelines for Mobile Apps

The Association for Competitive Technology praised the Federal Trade Commission’s recently released Mobile Privacy Disclosures report but expressed concern about a lack of focus on future technologies.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its Mobile Privacy Disclosures report last week, with recommendations that focused on protecting Americans’ privacy as they increasingly access the Internet on smartphones and tablets. The report—which said the mobile industry should do a better job of disclosing to consumers what personal data is accessed by mobile applications and adopt do-not-track features for smartphones—received the support of the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT), a trade association that represents small and mid-sized app developers.

“We’ve been looking at privacy issues for decades,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz told the New York Times. “But this is necessary because so much commerce is moving to mobile, and many of the rules and practices in the mobile space are sort of like the Wild West.”

The report provides guidelines for mobile platforms, app developers, ad networks, and app developer trade associations to improve mobile privacy disclosures. The guidelines for associations include developing short-form disclosures for app developers, promoting standardized app developer privacy policies, and educating app developers on privacy issues.

“The commission’s recommendation to make privacy policies a requirement for apps is a sensible step and one that ACT has been advocating to its members for some time,” ACT Executive Director Morgan Reed wrote on the organization’s website. “To ensure that privacy information is presented to consumers in a thorough manner will require outreach to the developer community about best practices, rules guidelines, with tools to display this information easily.”

Nevertheless, ACT expressed two concerns about the FTC recommendations.

“The recommendation that platforms provide reports about the scanning they do for privacy in a curated [app] store could actually backfire,” Reed wrote. “Stores may opt to do less or no privacy scanning of apps if they perceive a liability risk created by this report. … Additionally, the report relies on a technology snapshot and may not represent where the industry appears to be headed: offering better consumer controls and data isolation.”

These federal recommendations follow similar mobile privacy guidelines introduced in California last month and signal how seriously mobile privacy is being taken by the federal regulators.

On the same day the report was released, the FTC issued an $800,000 fine to Path, a two-year-old social network, saying that it “deceived users by collecting personal information from their mobile device address books without their knowledge and consent” and citing violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

“Over the years the FTC has been vigilant in responding to a long list of threats to consumer privacy,” Leibowitz said in a statement on the penalty. “No matter what new technologies emerge, the agency will continue to safeguard the privacy of Americans.”

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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