Industry Groups Advocate Mobile Privacy Disclosures
July 26, 2013

Industry Groups Advocate Mobile Privacy Disclosures

Enid Burns for - Your Universe Online

While some people are concerned about cookies and how much data is collected when browsing the web, a new concern has arisen in the fact that many mobile apps track user behavior as well. A new consortium led by the US Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), has set up voluntary guidelines to make consumers aware of what information an app tracks, and why.

Web browsing behavior is an understandable concern. Yet mobile behavior can be more damning. Not only can a mobile app track what you do inside an app, but also what other apps are on the phone, where you browse, the links you click and who you call. Even scarier is that apps can possibly track your location.

That's why the group, led by NTIA, created the Draft Code of Conduct, which outlines rules for app developers to follow, including what information is required to provide about the application and what data the app collects on users.

The new guidelines provide practices for app developers to follow to inform users if the following information is being collected through an app:

  • Biometrics: Information about your body, including fingerprints, facial recognition, signatures and/or voice print.
  • Browser History: A list of websites visited.
  • Phone or Text Log: A list of the calls or texts made or received.
  • Contacts: Including list of contacts, social networking connections or their phone numbers, postal, email and text addresses.
  • Financial Information: Includes credit, bank and consumer-specific financial information such as transactional data.
  • Health, Medical or Therapy Info: Including health claims and other information used to measure health or wellness.
  • Location: Precise past or current location of where a user has gone.
  • User Files: Files stored on the device that contain your content, such as calendar, photos, text or video.

The new code of conduct is voluntary at this point and is aimed at providing greater transparency in what information apps collect, and how the information is used, Forbes reported. While industry groups support the new guidelines, "it's not entirely clear whether the code will be implemented and, if so, who will abide by it," the article said.

The guidelines are still in draft form, and have not gotten the full support of all groups and stakeholders involved, AdWeek reported.

Only two participants of the panel endorsed the six-page document. "Another 20 groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the World Privacy Forum and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, supported it, but the vote carried no obligation for recommending or adopting the code. Seventeen participants voted for more consideration, and one objected," AdWeek reported.

The App Developers Alliance (ADA) was the group that worked on the final document, and believes the vote is a move forward. "Today's agreement that the model notices are ready for introduction and consumer testing is a win for both consumers and app developers," said Jon Potter, president of the ADA, AdWeek quoted.

There are still holdouts that believe there is more work to be done.

"Several in the room, the so-called drafters, tried to declare consensus and broad industry support and could not get their desired result. This should not be viewed as failure, but just highlights the need to keep our heads down and keep working at it. It is not a consensus and not done," said Stu Ingis, the Venerable partner who represented the Direct Marketing Association in the process, AdWeek reported.

The Center for Digital Democracy still has issues with the code, AdWeek reported. "The NTIA [the Commerce agency that ran the group] should be nominated to run elections for the Kremlin," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. Chester abstained from the vote. "They went from 'There's no consensus' to 'There is consensus that the document is final for now but can be changed in part based on testing.'"

There is still work to be done on securing privacy concerns on smartphones and within apps.