Summary:

The FTC recommends app makers disclose to users how their personal info is being used, and it wants ad networks and mobile platforms to work together on a mobile version of Do Not Track.

digital privacy

Mobile app makers need to do a much better job of informing consumers what they are doing with their data, the Federal Trade Commission said in a report on consumer app privacy released Friday. Among the chief proscriptions for companies developing for the iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone platforms, the FTC said it wants much more disclosure about how personal information of users is accessed, stored and used, and it should be very easy to understand.

“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,” recently resigned FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement accompanying the report. “These best practices will help to safeguard consumer privacy and build trust in the mobile marketplace, ensuring that the market can continue to thrive.”

The report is based on a workshop convened in May 2012 to elicit recommendations from players in different parts of the consumer mobile industry on how to better prioritize users’ privacy.

Among its findings, the FTC said 57 percent of app users have either didn’t install or uninstalled an app because they didn’t want to share their personal information, and that “less than one third of Americans” feel like they have control over how their personal information once input into their mobile device.

The next steps

The chief recommendations for mobile platforms owners:

  • Ask before accessing a user’s location.
  • Ask before accessing contacts, photos, calendar, or recording sound or video.
  • Make each app have a “dashboard” that shows users what each app has access to.
  • Develop an icon that will show users every time their personal data is being transmitted.
  • Offer a Do Not Track option (like Apple’s Limit Ad Tracking feature in iOS) so users can choose to block advertisers, ad networks or developers see how they’re using apps on their phone.

For app makers:

  • Make your privacy policy accessible via the app store it’s sold in.
  • Ask before accessing personal information.
  • Know how ad networks are accessing your users’ info.

For ad networks:

  • Communicate how your tracking works to app makers, and help platforms develop Do Not Track tools.

The FTC report came out the same day as the commission came to an $800,000 settlement with iOS app Path over the illegal access of children’s personal information and violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protections Act (COPPA).

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