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FTC issues mobile app guidelines for Apple, Google and others

Suggests do not track feature, but it's not legally binding
Mon Feb 04 2013, 13:53

THE UNITED STATES FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION (FTC) has issued guidelines for app developers that include offering "do not track" options.

The FTC issued a 36-page report on the state of smartphone app privacy and issued a number of non-binding guidelines (pdf) for app developers. According to the FTC, there should be greater disclosure and a "do not track" feature.

According to the FTC, greater disclosure of what information apps can access and an ability to compare this information between apps on different operating systems is important.

The FTC said, "Because platforms have developed a uniform application programming interface (API) through which apps can access standard categories of content on a mobile device, platforms are in a unique position to provide consistent disclosures across apps and are encouraged to do so."

The FTC suggested the use of icons to inform the user and a "privacy dashboard" to centralise information.

"A dashboard provides an easy way for consumers to determine which apps have access to which data and to revisit the choices they initially made about the apps," wrote the FTC.

The FTC also suggested a "do not track" feature to prevent the developer or third parties from generating mobile profiles of users: "A do-not-track setting placed at the platform level could give consumers who are concerned about this practice a way to control the transmission of information to third parties as consumers are using apps on their mobile devices."

Almost everything the FTC wrote in its report makes sense, but the problem is that nothing in the report is legally binding, meaning that firms like Apple, Google and Microsoft do not have to implement any of the recommendations, nor do developers. Nevertheless, the FTC's report highlights the potential for leaking private data that many users are unaware of when using apps. µ


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