Federal Government Steps Up Mobile Privacy Restrictions

March 6, 2013

The federal government is typically a step behind when it comes to regulating the Internet, but in a timely and significant move the Federal Trade Commission issued a report recently that said the mobile industry should include do-not-track features in its apps and software.


The report is an indication that the government is stiffening its attitude toward mobile privacy, and should also be a reminder to consumers to pay close attention to how much access and what types of permissions they grant to mobile apps.

Do-not-track has entered into mainstream consciousness recently, and most web browsers such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox now have DNT features or plugins that can be activated that essentially prevent a user from having their web activity tracked.

But the FTC report is the first significant step the government has taken to apply the same standards to mobile devices, and it is geared more specifically toward the apps that run on smartphones than it is their mobile web browsers.

Many apps require geolocation and other personal information from users, and many downplay or mislead users about what kind of information they can and do gather. For instance, and almost surely not coincidentally, on the same day it issued this report the FTC also fined PATH, a social networking app, $800,000, for violations of federal privacy laws regarding children for collecting too much information from users, including information about the people in their address books.

According to the New York Times, FTC has increased its emphasis on mobile data privacy because of the great number of entities that smartphones can be used to provide information to, from service carriers and mobile operating system developers, to device manufacturers, app companies, and, of course, advertisers.