Sunday, February 10, 2013

Calling for Better Mobile Privacy

The FTC published the February 2013 report “Mobile Privacy Disclosures: Building Trust through Transparency” with recommendations for critical players in the mobile marketplace. Most of the recommendations would help consumers get timely, easy-to-understand disclosures about the data collected and how it is used.

“This is important since we are in the midst of a mobile revolution. 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. At the same time, mobile technology presents unique privacy challenges” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

He further commented, “In the complicated mobile ecosystem, multiple companies may have access to an individual’s information including wireless providers, mobile operating systems, handset manufacturers, application developers, analytics companies, and advertisers. Many wonder how their privacy interests are being protected.”

The report describes the explosive growth of mobile services but 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.

When mobile devices are used in this way this means that unprecedented amounts of data collection is always available. 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 cites recent data showing that consumers increasingly are concerned about their privacy on mobile devices. For example, 57 percent of all app users have either uninstalled an app over concerns about having to share their personal information, or declined to install an app in the first place for similar reasons. Less than one-third of Americans feel they are in control of their personal information on their mobile devices.

At a press event to present the report, FCC Chairman highlighted some key recommendations. The report urges platforms like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Blackberry to provide just-in-time disclosures to consumers and obtain their affirmative express consent before allowing apps to access sensitive content. The report also encourages these platforms to promote best practices among app developers and to offer a Do Not Track mechanism for smart phone users.

In addition, the report urges app developers to disclose their privacy practices and obtain affirmative express consent from consumers before sharing sensitive data with ad networks and other third parties. The report makes recommendations also for advertising networks and other third parties, app developer trade associations, along with academics, usability experts, and privacy researchers.