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Chapter by Melissa Ngo

"The Myth of Security Under Camera Surveillance"


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    FTC Staff Report Recommends Ways to Improve Mobile Privacy Disclosures

    The Federal Trade Commission has released a report, “Mobile Privacy Disclosures: Building Trust Through Transparency” (FTC pdf; archive pdf), written by its staff concerning mobile devices and consumer privacy. (In other FTC news, Chairman Jon Leibowitz, who has sought stronger consumer privacy protections during his four-year tenure, has announced his resignation effective mid-February.) In a news release, the agency says about the mobile privacy report:

    The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s chief privacy agency, 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 FTC staff report is based on the FTC’s enforcement and policy experience with mobile issues and a May 2012 FTC workshop, which brought together representatives from industry, trade associations, academia, and consumer privacy groups to explore privacy disclosures on mobile devices.

    The report describes the explosive growth of mobile services:  in the fourth quarter of 2012, consumers worldwide bought approximately 217 million smartphones.  Smartphones and tablets offer a wide variety of benefits to consumers.  They can be used to make audio and video phone calls, find the nearest coffee shop or gas station, check traffic, browse a digital library while waiting for an appointment, and connect with friends for spontaneous get-togethers.

    At the same time, 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 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.

    View the full report for more FTC recommendations for mobile platforms, app developers, advertising networks and other third parties, and app developer trade associations, academics, usability experts and privacy researchers.

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