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National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Holds Public Meeting on Mobile Privacy

The NTIA’s first multistakeholder meeting on mobile privacy focused on ways to improve the transparency of the privacy practices of mobile apps.

By Alice Cheng

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) held a public meeting in Washington, D.C., to discuss mobile privacy. After taking public comment in March on consumer data privacy, the NTIA decided to address mobile app transparency in its first privacy multistakeholder process. The discussion is part of the Obama administration’s push for companies to abide by a consumer privacy “bill of rights,” and is an issue that has been recently tackled by the Federal Communications Commission as well.

As smartphone use continues to grow rapidly, concerns about mobile app access to consumer data have also grown. Through the devices, mobile apps may be able to access sensitive personal information regarding users, such as geographic location. Additionally, privacy advocates have pushed fervently for regulation on digital advertising. The prevalence of digital advertising on apps is not only a nuisance, but can at times be downright aggressive (i.e., ads pushed onto notification bars and phone desktops).

During the meeting, audience members were asked how greater mobile app transparency could be achieved. Suggestions ranged from software that notified users of what information was shared, to the use of icons indicating privacy concepts in lieu of lengthy privacy policies. Others proposed that broader fair information practices should be addressed, as transparency itself would not be helpful without regulations.

While the NTIA’s next steps are unclear, keep in mind that privacy policies should still be as clear as possible. Effective privacy policies let users know how and for what purpose information is collected and used. Privacy lawyers and advocates generally recommend an opt-in approach is where possible, as it allows users to choose what information they would like to share.