FTC report suggests ways to improve mobile privacy

A new Federal Trade Commission report recommends best practices for mobile operating systems, app developers, and ad networks.

Under the recommendations laid out in a report released Friday by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), consumers would gain a much better understanding of how their data is gathered and used by key players in the mobile universe.

The FTC report, which is based on a series of privacy workshops held last year by the commission, recommends "best practices" for mobile platform providers, application developers, and advertising networks.

"Do Not Track" and dashboards for mobile OSes

The FTC's recommendations include a number of calls to action for platform developers. In defining the term "platform provider," the report mentions Google, Apple, BlackBerry, Microsoft, and Amazon by name.

The report suggests that these companies should institute a version of "Do Not Track" for smartphones at the OS level. This would give consumers the option to prevent tracking by advertising networks or third parties as they navigate among apps on their handsets. The FTC also recommends that platform operators work with advertising networks to ensure effective implementation of the "Do Not Track" mechanism.

The report also suggests that platform providers create a "dashboard" for consumers. The dashboard feature would allow users to quickly and clearly see the content being accessed by the apps they've downloaded.

Platform operators should also provide consumers with immediate disclosure when an app is trying to access potentially sensitive information. The report recommends that consumers must give consent before that data is accessed.

The FTC report encourages platform providers to display an icon when user data is being transmitted to other services. The commission also wants companies to be forthcoming and transparent with their procedures for reviewing apps before they're sold to consumers.

Suggestions for app developers and ad networks

The FTC recommended app developers have a privacy policy, which would be made available through the app stores that sell their wares. Developers should also seek consumer consent before collecting sensitive information and consider participating in self-regulatory programs for guidance on providing privacy disclosures, the report suggested.

Advertising networks, the report noted, should work with developers to provide truthful disclosures to consumers.

"FTC staff strongly encourages companies in the mobile ecosystem to work expeditiously to implement the recommendations in this report," the report said. "Doing so likely will result in enhancing the consumer trust that is so vital to companies operating in the mobile environment."

"Moving forward," it continued, "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."