Owing to the increasing number of complaints over invasion of privacy by apps and sites, The Federal Trade Commission has issued a set of guidelines for makers of mobile platforms and developers of applications for mobile telephones and tablets to help observe truth-in-advertising and basic privacy principles. However, the guidelines are non-binding; they are a set of recommendations issued with the aim of safeguarding users’ privacy. As the number of users on smartphones and tablets increase (approximately 217 million smartphones were purchased in Q4 2012), compromised safety is becoming an increasing concern. The FTC has been focusing on securing user privacy, and this move just highlights their concern. The guidelines are also aimed at advertising networks, analytics firms and trade associations, but giants like Amazon and Microsoft will be the ones that will suffer the consequences most.
The thirty page document advises the makers to disclose key information of their app clearly and conspicuously. The guidelines talks about certain instructions to honor the privacy promises made, and make the privacy policies easily accessible. Abstaining from collecting sensitive data without explicit permission is suggested as a ethical practice. Children safety is a key area of concern, with the FTC having fined the makers of the app Path 800,000 dollars for collecting children data without parental consent.
In 2010, the FTC advocated a DNT (Do Not Track) mechanism for browsers, and now it is calling for the same in smartphones and tablets to prevent users being tracked from unwanted advertising and third party sites. In addition, it asks the developers to join a regulating body to uphold their privacy standards. They also recommend the incorporation of a dashboard that will be a one-stop access to all types of information about the app and its settings.
The app connects the smartphone, the developer and the end user. All three get affected by any regulation or policy that is introduced as a regulatory mechanism, which is why these guidelines are made non binding. Despite this, if any app maker or developer that does not take these guidelines into consideration, they will find themselves in the cross-hairs of the FTC. This was part of the report released: “FTC staff strongly encourages companies in the mobile ecosystem to work expeditiously to implement the recommendations in this report. As the mobile landscape evolves, the FTC will continue to closely monitor developments in this space and consider additional ways it can help businesses effectively provide privacy information to consumers.”
Click here to read the entire report here.
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