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Jon Fox,
CALPIRG

CALPIRG Applauds FTC’s New Privacy Guidelines for Online Apps

San Francisco, CA — Earlier today, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s chief privacy agency, issued a staff report recommending ways that key actors in the mobile marketplace can better inform consumers about their data practices. The report, “Mobile Privacy Disclosures,” focuses on making sure that consumers get timely, easy-to-understand disclosures about what data is collected and how the data is used. The California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) commends the FTC’s effort to safeguard consumer data and privacy.

“When less than one-third of Americans feel that they are in control of their personal information on their mobile devices, clearly there is a problem,” noted Jon Fox, consumer advocate with CALPIRG. “Many apps unnecessarily collect huge amounts of personal user data - including phone numbers, friends’ contact information, social network activity, user age and GPS locations. Regulators need to put a stop to this trend,” said Jon Fox.

The FTC report noted that 57 percent of all app users have either uninstalled an app over concerns about having to share their personal information, or declined to install an app in the first place for similar reasons. The FTC guidelines call for more user control through a Do Not Track (DNT) mechanism for smartphone users.  A mobile DNT mechanism, which a majority of the Commission has endorsed, would protect consumers from tracking by ad networks or other third parties as they use apps on their mobile devices.

“It’s been nearly a year since the FTC first called on industry leaders to develop a voluntary DNT system, and very little has happened,” noted Jon Fox. “If industry can’t set the rules for itself, it is time for the FTC to push for DNT legislation that would protect consumers online.”

The recommendations cover a wide range of actors in the mobile app marketplace, including mobile platforms (such as Amazon, Apple, BlackBerry, Google, and Microsoft), app developers, advertising networks and analytics companies, and app developer trade associations. The new FTC guidelines call for easy-to-read disclosures that provide consumers with an opportunity to understand what sensitive information is collected by the app before installing it.

“Since many apps share user information with third parties, they may expose users to serious risk of identity and financial theft," warned Jon Fox. “Consumers need access to simple and clear information in order to decide whether or not an app is safe and appropriate. The new guidelines will help consumers make better-informed decisions about which apps to use based on their clear and upfront privacy policies,” said Jon Fox.

CALPIRG recommends that app developers adopt the recommendations based on the Fair Information Practice Principles — a set of widely accepted principles for safeguarding individuals’ personal information. CALPIRG therefore encourages players in the mobile app world to abide by the following principles:

  • Transparency: Inform consumers about how you are using or transmitting user data.
  • Necessity: Don’t access more data than you need for the purpose of the app.
  • User-Control: Give consumers the fullest possible control over how their data is used.
  • Security: Use reasonable and up-to-date security protocols to safeguard data.

 

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The California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) is a results-oriented public interest group that protects consumers, encourages a fair sustainable economy, and fosters responsive democratic governance.

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