Monday, December 10, 2012

FTC To Kids' Mobile App Developers: More Transparency Needed


On December 10, 2012, the Federal Trade Commission issued its 2012 Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade report.  The overall theme of the report is that mobile app developers need to be more transparent about how they utilize the information they collect.  The report found that "many apps included interactive features or shared kids' information with third parties without disclosing these practices to parents."
This survey was a follow up to the FTC's February 2012 report Mobile Apps For Kids:  Current Privacy Disclosures are Disappointing.  In February 2012, the FTC's overall finding was that "little or no information was available to parents about the privacy practices and interactive features of the mobile apps surveyed prior to download".
Both of these reports demonstrate the need for the mobile apps industry to become more proactive to avoid greater regulation.  Even though the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) has been trying to self-regulate through its privacy policy guidelines and other initiatives, it appears that many app developers have not followed the MMA's guidelines. Since it appears that many app developers have not been following the MMA's guidelines the FTC appears ready to act.
The FTC's mobile apps privacy reports appear to provide the evidence that an update to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is needed.  While these reports appear to indicate that our children's digital privacy needs to be better safeguarded, there have been concerns from Silicon Valley and Hollywood on the depth and breadth of the FTC's proposed updates. According to the New York TimesApple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Viacom, and Disney are some of the companies who have objected to some of the proposed updates to COPPA that have been submitted.    
In general, many people don't understand how mobile applications collect and utilize the data that they acquire.  Unfortunately, due to a lack of information available many parents and children may not be able to make informed decisions about how best to protect their digital privacy.  This lack of information may be caused by a lack of transparency.  For example, the new FTC report it found that "20% (81) of the apps reviewed linked to general disclosure information, including a privacy policy" (page 7).  While this is an improvement over the 16% (64) figure that was reported in the FTC's prior mobile apps privacy report, more transparency is needed so that parents and children may better understand how their personal information is being utilized by others.
Consumers have tremendous concerns about mobile data privacy.  For example, according to a September 2012 Pew Study, "54% of app users have decided to not install a cell phone app when they discovered how much personal information they would need to share in order to use it and 30% of app users have uninstalled an app that was already on their cell phone because they learned it was collecting personal information that they didn't want to share."  
The bottom line is that parents and children need to be provided more information regarding what personal digital data is collected and how it is utilized.  If a parent determines that it is acceptable for an app to collect and re-purpose his child's personal digital data that is his perogative.  However, that is a personal decision that is best handled by a parent.  Unless the moblie apps industry is able to effectively police itself and provide parents the information they need to make informed decisions about their children's digital privacy, more regulations are needed.

To learn more about these issues you may contact me at www.shearlaw.com.
Copyright 2012 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.