FTC Publishes Report on App Privacy Disclosures; Announces Public Workshop

February 21, 2012 | The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently published a staff report called “Mobile Apps for Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures are Disappointing,” highlighting the lack of information available to parents prior to downloading mobile apps for their children and calling on app developers, app stores and third parties providing services within apps to present greater transparency about their data practices through standardized disclosures.

The study surveyed the two largest U.S. app stores – the Android Market and the Apple App Store – and focused on types of apps offered to kids; the age-range of the intended audience; the disclosures provided to users about the apps’ data collection and sharing practices; the availability of interactive features; and the app store ratings and parental controls offered for these systems.

The Commission said that most of the apps surveyed “appear to be intended for children’s use” and researchers found “little, if any, information in the app marketplaces about the data collection and sharing practices of these apps.” Over the next six months, the FTC will conduct a review to determine whether any of the apps included in the study are in violation of COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), which requires operators of online services (including interactive mobile apps) directed to children under age 13 to provide notice and obtain parental consent before collecting items of “personal information” from children.

In its recommendation to industry, the FTC urged app developers to provide simple and short disclosures or icons that are easy to find and understand on the small screen of a mobile device and to alert parents if the app connects with any social media or allows targeted advertising to occur through the app. The Commission also recommended that third parties that collect user information through apps should disclose their privacy practices through a method that is easily accessible, and that app stores provide a consistent way for developers to display information regarding their app’s data collection practices and interactive features.

The FTC also announced plans in the report to hold a public workshop this year to gain input from industry representatives, consumer groups and consumer disclosure experts to consider ways to standardize disclosures (for example, by standardizing language, creating icons or using a layered approach).  

As a supporter of the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), the Toy Industry Association (TIA) and its members have a strong commitment to children’s privacy and support guidelines that facilitate the ability to offer fun, safe online environments for children while remaining protective of children’s privacy. Most recently, TIA’s Responsible Marketing to Children Committee submitted industry comments to the FTC on proposed COPPA revisions.

TIA will keep its members apprised of any developments about the FTC’s upcoming workshop on app privacy practices.