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FTC: Give mobile device users more privacy disclosures -- or else

February 01, 2013|By Jessica Guynn
  • Outgoing Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz called on the fast-growing mobile device marketplace to do a better job of alerting consumers to what the various market players do with their personal information.
Outgoing Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz called on the… (Alex Wong / Getty Images )

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Federal Trade Commission called on the fast-growing mobile device marketplace to do a better job of alerting consumers to what the various market players do with their personal information.

It released guidelines for mobile privacy on Friday. The guidelines target major players in the industry such as Apple and Google as well as mobile app developers, advertising networks and others.

Among the recommendations: asking platforms such as Apple and Google to let consumers know immediately what apps will do with their personal information and let those consumers give their permission for that data to be collected.

App developers should also make privacy policies easier to understand and give consumers a clear sense of how their information will be used and shared, the FTC said.

It also recommended a "do not track" system for mobile device users.

“This is a report about best practices,” outgoing FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said. “What we are really working on here is how to encourage best practices in this ecosystem and we think we are making progress.”

The guidelines were met with approval by associations representing app developers.

Morgan Reed, president of the Assn. for Competitive Technology's app developers’ trade group, said that FTC’s report offered "sensible" guidelines.

Leibowitz said the mobile marketplace should take the guidelines seriously or face the risk of federal privacy legislation.

“Privacy is the quintessential bipartisan issue in Congress,” he said.

The FTC is responding to rising concern over the handling of consumers’ private information on mobile devices. State and federal regulators are intensifying their scrutiny of the mobile marketplace and signaling their intentions to take enforcement actions unless the marketplace improves its privacy practices. California has taken a leadership role in this push under state attorney general Kamala Harris.

“Too many in the mobile ecosystem have failed to heed the darkening storm clouds of the regulators and have continued to be opaque about their information practices,” said privacy lawyer Lisa Sotto, a partner with Hunton & Williams in New York. “Given the recent hue and cry over the lack of transparency in the mobile space, it is no surprise that the FTC has sought to make a splash by issuing a report and announcing an enforcement action on mobile privacy on the same day.”

The FTC announced Friday that mobile social networking app Path has settled charges that it deceived users by collecting personal information from their mobile address books without their knowledge or permission.

The San Francisco company will also pay $800,000 for illegally collecting kids’ personal information without parents’ consent, the FTC said Friday.

Like other major technology players MySpace, Google and Facebook, Path must establish a privacy program and obtain independent privacy audits every other year for the next 20 years, according to the settlement.

“Both social networking and children’s privacy have been in the crosshairs of the FTC for months,” Sotto said.

ALSO:

FTC investigates mobile apps makers on children's privacy

Mobile social networking app Path settles with FTC for $800,000

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris puts mobile apps on notice about privacy

Follow me on Twitter @jguynn

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