From Apple to app devs, feds urge privacy action

Let's work on security, guys

Consumer privacy has been a hot-button topic for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and has grown ever more important with the expanding mobile market.

Though the battle with Google over its search engine results took much of the spotlight, the FTC has never given up its quest for the consumer right to privacy.

As 2013 is slowly breaking in, the FTC has released a report with some recommendations on how mobile device makers, app developers, and advertising agencies can better improve the way users are informed of how data is being collected.

Even as the FTC's current chief Jon Leibowitz is about the step down, it's clear the U.S. government agency still has its sights set on creating a safe and informed environment in the mobile universe.

Mobile mantra

The FTC had discovered less than one-third of mobile users in the U.S. feel they can control how private data is shared on a mobile device.

As a result, the FTC is asking providers like Apple, BlackBerry, and Google to consider including "just-in-time (JIT) disclosures" to get a user's consent before allowing secure information to be shared.

That means data such as geolocation, contacts, calendars, and media couldn't be accessed by apps or other third-party groups without you knowing it's about to happen.

There's also an idea for a new icon to be displayed whenever a smartphone or tablet is collecting and passing along data obtained from the user.

Those ideas are great, but the FTC's privacy masterstroke comes with the concept of a single "do not track" option being included on every device.

Users would then be able to prevent any and all tracking through apps and advertising, thus making sure no sensitive data was ever looked at, let alone collected.

App-itude adjustments

Actual device makers weren't the only people in the FTC's crosshairs, as the group took app developers to task as well.

After discovering 57 percent of mobile users deleted or refused to install an app after becoming wary about sharing their data, the FTC recommended some similar practices as they did for mobile companies.

In addition to a JIT disclosure and the ability to obtain another affirmative consent before data is shared or collected within an app, the commission wants app makers to include privacy policies up front.

By adding privacy policies to the app's page on a given storefront, rather than from within the app, consumers can better gauge just how comfortable they are without having to install anything first.

Ad networks and other third-party services weren't addressed so intimately by the FTC, though the group did stress the idea of working together with mobile companies to develop (and stick to) the proposed "do not track" list.

Shouting in the wind

As interesting as some of the ideas presented by the FTC are, at this point the recommendations are just something for those in the mobile market to consider.

There's no real official power behind any of the concepts presented by the FTC, though the agency "strongly encourages companies in the mobile ecosystem to work expeditiously to implement the recommendations" disclosed in the report.

The FTC isn't going anywhere, and will continue to look out for the best interests of consumers rather than business collecting the data, but there's no telling if any companies in this report will rise to the challenge.

With no threat of penalties for not obeying these suggestions, it's not likely we'll see any of the FTC's ideas executed for quite some time.