Commerce Department to examine mobile privacy issues

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As part of the privacy push, NTIA is leading discussions between consumer groups, advertisers and Web companies to develop voluntary industry codes of conduct to protect users' privacy.

Although the government cannot force a company to agree to the codes of conduct, the Federal Trade Commission will have the power to sue any company that agrees to abide by the codes, but then violates them.

NTIA said it chose to focus its first meeting on mobile apps because they pose "distinct consumer privacy challenges." NTIA noted that reading long privacy policies on mobile devices can be difficult because of the small screens.

Mobile apps can access particularly sensitive personal data, such as the user's location.

The agency said the goal of the meeting is to develop a code of conduct that "promotes transparent disclosures to consumers concerning mobile apps’ treatment of personal data." 

The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) applauded the administration for focusing on voluntary guidelines to protect privacy.

“SIIA concurs with the Department of Commerce that voluntary, enforceable codes of conduct are the appropriate approach for data privacy protections because they develop faster and provide more flexibility than legislation or regulation," Ken Wasch, president of SIIA, said in a statement. He added that continued growth of the mobile app marketplace depends on consumers trusting that their data will be protected.