Hyperlocals Must Move Quickly to Post Privacy Policies for Apps

Makers of location-based apps need to develop privacy policies soon, regulators warned today during a mobile privacy conference in San Francisco. Travis LeBlanc, California’s special assistant attorney general for technology, told a group of mobile developers that the California Attorney General’s office will begin taking regulatory action in six months if app stores do not put in place a system to require privacy policies with apps offered in their stores.

As reported in Street Fight, operators of major mobile app stores, including Google, Apple, Microsoft and RIM, signed an agreement in February with the California Attorney General saying they would implement a process to require developers to present privacy policies when offering their apps. Today, at the the App Developer Privacy Summit in San Francisco, sponsored by the Future of Privacy Forum and Application Developers Alliance, regulators gave the first hint on what app developers can expect in 2013.

LeBlanc told the developers that part of the reason California mandates privacy polices is to make developers think about privacy before they offer their products. Regulators also revealed the following initiatives:

  • Federal Trade Commission attorney Laura Berger said her agency is pushing for a “universal, effective, do not track option” that it wants to apply in the mobile environment.
  • Joanne McNabb, who heads up the California Office of Privacy Protection, told developers that her office has put together an advisory panel to develop best practices in developing policies for mobile privacy. She expects that these policies should be finalized by July 2012. The policies may influence how mobile app stores may implement the privacy requirements.

The significance of the California agreement is that it sets a default nationwide standard because the major app stores have agreed to require policies for all applications offered through their stores. So, this would apply to hyperlocals who distribute apps even though they are not in California.

Alex Fowler, head of global privacy and public policy at Mozilla, maker of the Firefox browser, announced today that Mozilla is requiring its developers to provide privacy policies with their applications. This will apply to any hyperlocal that distributes apps for Firefox browsers. Developers speaking at the conference suggested that privacy disclosures should be provided in a “short and sweet” way. Lyn Watts, policy and privacy manager for Microsoft and Ragavan Srinivasan, product manager for Mozilla, suggested that the industry can come up with a set of icons that would represent the type of information collected and used by a developer. The point is that the icons can present more information on smaller screen devices than privacy policy text.

Brian Dengler is an attorney with Vorys Legal Counsel and journalist who covers legal issues in eMedia. He is a former vice-president of AOL, Inc., a former newspaperman, and an EMMY-winning TV journalist. He teaches new media issues as an adjunct at Kent State University and formerly at Otterbein University.

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Now is the time to reserve your tickets for Street Fight Summit West. Join the top minds in hyperlocal in San Francisco on June 5th.

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