FTC Issues Recommendations On Mobile Data Disclosures, Urges Mobile Industry To Act


Data use and sharing disclosures on mobile devices need work, the FTC said in a staff report released last week. The report recommends ways that actors in the mobile marketplace—such as mobile operating system providers, application developers, advertising networks, and analytics companies—can inform consumers of data collection and sharing practices. While the FTC tailors recommendations for each group, the recommendations are essentially focused on providing consumers with timely and understandable data use disclosures. If such disclosures do not materialize, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said to reporters in a teleconference discussing the report, the mobile industry may face regulatory or legislative mandates.

The report is in part the result of the FTC's May 30, 2012 workshop, which brought together members of the mobile industry, trade associations, academia, and consumer privacy groups to discuss privacy issues presented by mobile devices. The report is also in response to increasing consumer concern about privacy on mobile devices.

While providing a wealth of benefits to consumers and players in the mobile marketplace, mobile devices have presented novel privacy issues because they are personal to the consumer and are used for numerous activities such as surfing the Internet and social networks, sending e-mails and messages, taking and sharing photographs, and simply making phone calls. Additionally, mobile devices are almost always turned on and are almost always with the user. All this facilitates new avenues and levels of data collection, but the space available for disclosures is limited to the size of the mobile device's screen - often just a few inches.

While the report does not carry the force of law, it offers several suggestions for mobile privacy disclosures and provides a window into the FTC's approach to mobile privacy. For instance, the report indicates that the FTC views adherence to a "strong privacy code" favorably and considers geolocation information to be "sensitive"—akin to financial, health, and children's data.

The FTC report recommends the following with respect to specific actors in the mobile marketplace:

Operating System Providers:

Provide disclosures and obtain consumers' affirmative express consent before allowing apps to access data; Consider a one-stop "dashboard" approach and the use of icons to allow consumers to review the...

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