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NTIA App Code Of Conduct Attracts Criticism

MOBILEWORLDLIVE.COM

The US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has released a draft code of conduct for mobile apps, which has been criticised by consumer groups.

If the guidelines are adopted, app publishers will need to provide short form notices telling consumers whether their data is being collected and how it’s being used.

The code of conduct is aimed at giving consumers more control over privacy and has been developed over several years with input from privacy advocates, app developers and app store owners.

Data that comes under the remit of the code include biometrics, browser history, phone and SMS logs, contact information, financial and medical data, user files and location data.

However, several groups have criticised the approach. The Consumer Federation of America said it does not support the effort as “both the code and the process are seriously flawed”.

The information provided by the short form notices falls short of what is needed to fully inform users of what is happening to their data, according to the organisation. One particular concern is that the code does not call for developers to disclose if data is shared with third parties if they are in the same corporate structure as the app developer.

“This means that app users will be misled, in some cases, into thinking that their data will not be shared with certain types of entities when in fact it will be,” the organisation said in a statement.

The Consumer Watchdog, meanwhile, said that the voluntary multi-stakeholder process for gathering support for the code “makes a mockery of the effort”.

Two participants in the process ‘endorsed’ the code, while 20 ‘supported’ it, 17 voted for ‘further consideration’ and one ‘objected’. However, the term ‘support’ carries no obligation according to NTIA guidelines.

“This is absurd Orwellian doublespeak. A company can put out a press release saying it supports the Transparency Code, boosting its public image and then do absolutely nothing,” said John Simpson, the Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director.

Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA administrator Lawrence Strickling said in a statement that the NTIA had reached a milestone “in the efforts to enhance consumer privacy on mobile devices”.

“We encourage all the companies that participated in the discussion to move forward to test the code with their consumers,” he added.

App store operators have already agreed to put new privacy policy standards in place to confirm with California’s Online Privacy Protection Act.