Are mobile shopping apps providing consumers with necessary information and clear details about their privacy policies?

Not necessarily, according to a new report from the Federal Trade Commission.

“What’s the Deal? An FTC Study On Mobile Shopping Apps” examined 121 retail mobile applications found in the Google Play and Apple App stores, including price comparison apps, “deal” apps offering coupons or discounts, and in-store purchase apps.

The agency found that many of the apps failed to explain key information prior to download and had “vague” privacy policies. Based on the findings, the report made three recommendations.

Of the 30 in-store purchase apps reviewed, 14 did not disclose any dispute resolution or liability limits information prior to download; of the 16 that did, seven disclaimed all liability. Accordingly, the agency recommended that developers of in-store purchase apps provide clear information on dispute resolution and liability limits for consumers prior to download, particularly if a stored value payment method is utilized.

They should also be provide consumers with a clear description of how the app collects, uses, and shares consumer data, the agency said. A majority of the shopping apps in all three categories disclosed “a wide array of information,” the FTC said, such as Social Security numbers, names and addresses, and detailed purchase information.

But the privacy policies “often used vague language” and reserved broad rights to collect, use, and share data, according to the report. Thirty-three percent of in-store purchase apps reserved the right to share data without restriction. By making information about data-sharing clear, consumers can better “evaluate and compare apps” based on their privacy policies, according to the FTC.

Finally, the FTC advised developers to ensure that “data security promises translate into sound data security practices,” and encouraged “all companies to provide strong protections for the data they collect.”

To read the report, click here.

Why it matters: The FTC said the report builds on the findings of a workshop held in 2012 and a subsequent report on mobile payments issued last year. While the FTC found that most of the apps it reviewed had a privacy policy, those privacy policies were vague and reserved broad rights to collect, use and share data without meaningful information about how the apps actually use and share data. The FTC is looking for less boilerplate and more real details to help consumers evaluate and compare data practices among apps before app installation.