Do-not-track isn't just for desktops, the Federal Trade Commission said on Friday. Mobile platform companies -- including Apple, Google and Blackberry -- also should develop a do-not-track mechanism that would "prevent an entity from developing profiles about mobile users," the FTC recommended in a new report about mobile privacy.
"A DNT setting placed at the platform level could give consumers ... a way to control the transmission of information to third parties," the report states. "Offering this setting or control through the platform will allow consumers to make a one-time selection rather than having to make decisions on an app-by-app basis."
The report adds that apps relying on behavioral advertising "would remain free to engage potential customers in a dialogue to explain the value of behavioral tracking and obtain consent to engage in such tracking."
Ad networks also should "work with platforms to ensure implementation of an effective DNT system for mobile," the report says. "This collaboration is important to ensure that consumer choice is honored.”
Do-not-track is just one recommendation in the 36-page FTC staff report, titled "Mobile Privacy Disclosures: Building Trust Through Transparency."
The FTC also says that app developers should disclose data collection practices before gathering information, and obtain opt-in consent before collecting sensitive data -- including financial or health information. "For instance," the report says, "if an app collects blood glucose information or shares it with third parties, the app developer should provide the consumer with a just-in-time disclosure of that fact and obtain affirmative express consent prior to the initial collection or sharing."
The report comes the same day that Chairman Jon Leibowitz announced his resignation. Leibowitz has made online privacy a priority for the FTC, and has repeatedly urged the ad industry to implement a do-not-track mechanism that would allow consumers to avoid all online behavioral advertising.
Efforts to create such a mechanism for desktops moved forward in 2011, when Mozilla and other browser developers began offering do-not-track headers. Those headers signal to publishers and ad networks that users don't want to be tracked, but don't actually prevent tracking.
The initiative hit a roadblock last year after the Internet standards group World Wide Web Consortium was unable to agree on standards for how to interpret the headers. One of the main sticking points centers on whether ad networks and analytics companies should be able to continue collecting data from consumers who have turned on a do-not-track command. Many online ad companies say that they should be able to do so, as long as they don't use the information for behavioral advertising purposes.
Leibowitz told reporters today that he still hopes that the industry implements a do-not-track system in the near future.