Mobile privacy continues to be a topic of interest at key agencies. The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) released a new report on children’s mobile applications in December 2012, shortly before publishing its amended children’s online privacy regulation. Entitled “Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade,” the report follows up on the FTC’s earlier study on children’s apps.
In the new study, the FTC compared popular apps’ privacy notices to the apps’ data collection practices, and raised concerns that many of the examined apps were not providing privacy notices before download and/or were not disclosing certain practices that the FTC views as relevant to parents: in-app purchasing features, data sharing practices, interactive advertising, and links to social media. While the report did not find that any laws were violated, the FTC stated that it will be conducting nonpublic investigations to determine whether certain apps have violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) or Section 5 of the FTC Act. The FTC additionally pledged to develop consumer education on mobile privacy, stated that it will conduct a third study of children’s mobile apps in the future, and encouraged the industry to develop mobile privacy best practices.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”), a division of the Commerce Department, is also proceeding with its multistakeholder process focusing on transparency practices for mobile apps. Launched in July 2012, this is the Administration’s first multistakeholder effort to implement the White House’s “Privacy Bill of Rights” principles through a voluntary industry code of conduct. NTIA has convened numerous meetings attended by industry representatives and consumer interest groups. While several draft codes have been circulated, consensus on key issues remains elusive. NTIA has scheduled additional meetings through the spring of 2013.
In California, Attorney General Kamala Harris recently issued new mobile privacy recommendations that go beyond what current law requires. The report, entitled “Privacy on the Go,” is aimed at mobile app developers, app market providers, mobile ad networks, and other entities operating in the mobile app ecosystem. Among other recommendations, Attorney General Harris encourages app developers to use “special notices” or other techniques to alert consumers to data practices that may be unexpected. Trade groups have raised concerns that the recommendations were not adequately vetted before release and will harm innovation and economic growth.