Apps agree to test privacy notices

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NTIA convened the discussions in an effort to implement the White House's "Privacy Bill of Rights" — a set of principles for how Internet companies should handle personal information that President Obama laid out early last year.

Jon Potter, president of the Application Developers Alliance, which helped craft the code of conduct, said in a statement that consumer trust is critical for his industry's success. 

“The voluntary, at-a-glance notice is meant to quickly and easily inform consumers what sensitive personal information the apps collect and if that information is shared," he said. "The notice will empower consumers to make informed choices based on their privacy preferences, which benefits consumers and the app industry."

Privacy groups have complained that mobile apps often collect sensitive information without their users' permission or knowledge. A Federal Trade Commission study last year found that only 20 percent of apps aimed at children disclosed anything about their privacy practices. 

Consumer advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Consumers Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation backed the new notification standard, which they called a modest step forward for consumer privacy.

But many of the privacy groups argued that the fact that it took a year of negotiations to reach an agreement on the narrow issue of app disclosures shows the need for comprehensive privacy protection legislation that imposes mandatory requirements on companies.

"[The code] allows applications to compete on privacy and gives consumers a tool to pick the most privacy friendly applications," Christopher Calabrese, a legislative counsel for the ACLU, said. "The fact that it took a year to come to agreement on just this single measure, however, makes it clear that we need comprehensive privacy legislation in order to gain meaningful privacy protections for consumers. After all, we should be able to enjoy cool new technologies without giving up our privacy."

President Obama has called on Congress to enact comprehensive privacy legislation, but he has yet to put forward his own detailed proposal and there has been little movement on the Hill.