Government and Industry Release New Apps Privacy Policies

August 5, 2013

Cyberspace SpyThe U.S. government’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and a range of participants in the mobile apps industry recently released a template for information privacy notices to be used in software apps. The coalition is encouraging all apps developers to incorporate the notice into their products, in an effort to make apps users better informed as to the collection and use of their personal information by apps.

The new policy template is short and easy to understand.  Some observers note that the developers of the template seem to have had the nutrition labels used on food products in mind as they developed the privacy statement format.  Like the nutrition labels, the goal of the privacy template is to provide useful information to consumers in a clear and concise format.

The privacy policy template identifies the following eight categories of personal information: 1.) biometrics, 2.) Web browsing history, 3.) phone calls and texts, 4.) lists containing names of contacts, 5.) geographic location data, 6.) financial data, 7.) medical information, and 8.) stored data files.

Supporters of the privacy template contend that it is an important step in advancing data privacy in the apps context.  They claim it will help to improve and standardize information privacy management.  They also suggest that the template will help to educate and guide consumers with regard to managing their personal information.

Critics argue that the policies do not go far enough.  They note that the short form policies do not address all of the critical data privacy issues.  They also contend that the template provides a format for apps privacy notices, but it does not mandate any specific level of privacy protection.

The apps privacy template developed by the coalition is an important positive step.  It serves consumer interests by providing an easy to use format to facilitate access to key information privacy data.

Effective notice alone, however, is not enough.  In addition to developing a clear and concise format through which to express apps privacy policies, substantial attention must also be paid to the content of those policies.  Notice is only part of the privacy challenge.

This coalition and other participants in the apps marketplace must also act to encourage development and widespread use of consumer-friendly standards and practices for information collection and use.  Until such privacy standards and practices become the norm for all systems that collect, distribute or process personal information, the issue will remain unresolved.