Commentary

Senate To Hold Hearing On Mobile Privacy

Standards for online privacy might be in flux as ad networks debate whether to respect the new browser-based do-not-track headers, but many ad companies at least offer privacy policies and say that users can opt out of receiving targeted ads. When it comes to mobile privacy, however, a good number of app developers appear to operate on an anything-goes basis.

A recent study by the think tank Future of Privacy Forum found that 22 of the top 30 paid mobile apps lack privacy policies altogether. As for the remainder, they might have policies -- but that doesn't mean they're privacy-friendly.

Reading mobile privacy policies can involve clicking through as many as 50 screens on a mobile device, David Vladeck, head of the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Protection Bureau, pointed out today in a brief interview with MediaPost. "Imagine trying to reach a privacy policy on a BlackBerry screen," he said.

What does the FTC want to see in a mobile privacy policy? "With sensitive data, you've got to give people notice and choice," Vladeck said.

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And, though guidelines governing mobile privacy are still emerging, Vladeck questioned whether apps should be gathering information they don't need. "A lot of apps are pulling down data that has nothing to do with functionality," he said. "If you have an app to test battery levels of your device, why would it pull down your location?"

Mobile privacy overall has garnered a lot of attention these last few weeks, given the news that iPhones, iPads and Android devices collected detailed information about users' locations.

Meanwhile, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who recently introduced do-not-track legislation, said today that Vladeck, along with executives from Google, Facebook and other companies, will testify at an upcoming hearing about mobile privacy. The hearing, to be held Thursday by the consumer protection subcommittee, will focus on current industry data collection practices as well as "the possible role of the federal government in protecting consumers in the mobile marketplace and promoting their privacy," Rockefeller announced.

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