Mobile app code of conduct released, but industry remains largely silent

NTIA oversees release of mobile app code of conduct

After more than a year of negotiations, a coalition of mobile app developers and consumer advocacy groups, working under the auspices of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, released guidelines on what app developers should disclose about the data they collect on mobile users. The effort is the latest in a long series of attempts to explain to mobile users exactly what information smartphone applications are collecting about them.

The guidelines essentially would require participants to clearly disclose to users what information they collect (like contact lists, photos, Web browsing history, biometric data or health and medical information) and whether they share that information with any third parties (like mobile advertising networks or data analytics companies).

The goal is to ensure smartphone users are educated about exactly what information mobile apps can access, and is in response to concerns that mobile app providers are surreptitiously collecting personal data from users.

According to the New York Times, groups like the Application Developers Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union and the World Privacy Forum participated in the creation of the guidelines. However, according to the NYT, major mobile app companies like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) have not said whether they will support the new code of conduct, making it unclear whether the effort will result in any substantial changes in the mobile market. The Federal Trade Commission would be able to enforce the guidelines on any company that agrees to follow the code of conduct.

Wireless trade group CTIA voiced support for the code but stopped short of agreeing to push it: "CTIA has been encouraged by the experience of parties working together in the multistakeholder process. While member companies will need to evaluate the final code thoroughly, CTIA supports company consideration of the draft Code of Conduct for voluntary adoption and support."

The code, released by the NTIA, is one of a number of attempts to add clarity to the rapidly evolving market for mobile applications. For example, CTIA in 2011 attempted to institute a Mobile Application Rating System, but both Apple and Google declined to participate in the program (both offer their own ratings systems). Other efforts, such as the Association of Competitive Technology's App Trust Project, have shown little progress. Moreover, Apple, Google and other app store managers generally already offer alerts and information about what information specific applications are accessing.

Nonetheless, the issue appears to be important to mobile users: According to a Pew Internet and American Life Project survey last year, 54 percent of respondents said they had backed out of adding an app to their smartphone when they realized what kind of personal information they would be required to hand over. 

For more:
- see this NTIA page
- see this New York Times article
- see this Verge article
- see this Broadcasting & Cable article
- see this CTIA post

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