Industry moving towards mobile app privacy standard

Wouldn’t it be great if mobile application had privacy policies were readily visible and plainly stated what type of information the app is harvesting from you?

Businesses and privacy advocates appear to be coming closer to making this a reality, according to a recent report from technology news Web site They are nearing agreement on a guideline which aims to make it easier for mobile app users to know what personal information is being taken from their handset or tablet when they activate an app.

The guideline will likely call for a brief easy-to-read label listing what personal data such as personal contacts lists, physical location, Web surfing habits and other information is being accessed by, and most likely being passed on to a marketer, by the app.

Earlier this month the United States Federal Trade Commission issued new rules prohibiting the collection through mobile apps or information on children under the age of 13. The updated Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, requires that a child’s parent provide permission (for instance by way of electronically scanned forms) before data collection can be allowed. The act, however, does not require parental consent when a Web site operator collects data for support of internal operations such as advertising, site analysis and network communications.


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Hoping to be ahead of future similar regulation focused on teens and adults, tech industry lobbyist and privacy advocates are now working on a voluntary disclosure guideline covering mobile app privacy.

Back in 2011, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart unveiled a guideline for online behavioural advertising (OBA) which focused tracking tools used by companies. The guidelines required that individuals be made aware of the purpose behind the collection of data before such collection occurs; the various parties that involved in the collection of data; information collected should not include sensitive personal data; and an opt-out mechanism should be easily accessible.

A year later, the Privacy Commissioners of Canada, Alberta and British Columbia jointly released guidelines on privacy practices for the development of mobile applications. The guideline called for greater transparency on data collection practices and most of the items in it closely mirrored the requirements found in Stoddart’s earlier OBA guideline.

Earlier this year, Stoddart had issued a statement saying that California-based mobile app developer WhatsApp broke Canadian laws dealing with the protection, retention and disclosure of personal data because the app forced users to provide access to their personal address book in order to use the app.

The new mobile guidelines now being worked out in the U.S. will allow for greater “transparency and comprehension among consumers”, according to Tim Sparapani, of the Application Developer Alliance, an association of app developers and companies that support the proposed privacy labels.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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