F.T.C. Issues Privacy Guidelines To App Developers

federal_trade_commisssion_building.topFederal Trade Commission is starting to take action pertaining to the privacy of people using apps on their smartphones and tablets. These new guidelines are coming by way of a non binding staff report which was approved last Friday.

With an increasing number of people using applications on mobile devices rather than their desktop or laptop computer for everything from banking to social networking, it’s not surprising that the government would want to get involved, and they have apparently been looking into the privacy issues for a while. According to the F.T.C Chairman Jon Leibowitz “This is necessary because so much commerce is moving to mobile, and many of the rules and practices in the mobile space are sort of like the Wild West.”

One of the included guidelines is that app makers have to make it clear exactly what permissions the application is given. For example it may appear that you are giving permission for your geo location one time, but in reality the app is recording the data repeatedly.

These guidelines will hit the smaller app developers much harder than the big guys like Apple and Google it seems. The larger companies will have the resources to be able to put these new rules into place without much effort. However now it opens up the possibility for action against the individual who just makes one app and really can’t navigate these guidelines as easily. “This says if you’re outside the recommended behavior, you’re at a higher risk of enforcement action,” said Mary Ellen Callahan, a partner at Jenner & Block and former chief privacy officer for the Department of Homeland Security.

Of course what’s government action without unintended consequences right? With the liability falling on the individual app developer, there’s now a chance that the app stores will stop their own screening the privacy protections of the apps sold within them.

These new guidelines come hot on the heels of an $800,000 fine to social networking app Path. Path, a company out of San Francisco, was cited for violating federal privacy protections for children by collecting personal information on underage users, including almost everyone in users’ address books. In addition, Path was regularly collecting and storing information about the contacts in users’ address books, while their privacy policy stated that the data collected was limited, mainly technical information about users’ devices.

The main takeaway from all this is that users should be more careful about reading the permissions that they give an app, even if the developers are under the prying eye of the government.

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