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Federal Trade Commission Continues Focus on Privacy

February 25, 2013

As part of their ongoing effort on privacy, a trio of privacy-related developments emerged from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as 2012 drew to a close.

In the fall, the FTC released a guide titled “Marketing Your Mobile App: Get It Right from the Start” to help mobile app developers comply with truth-in-advertising standards and privacy principles.  Though it is not formal guidance, the report encourages app developers to build privacy considerations into the app from the start, be transparent about data practices, and offer choices that are easy to find and use.

In December the FTC released its second report on mobile apps directed to children.  The report, which follows up an analysis that the FTC staff conducted in February 2012, examined the privacy disclosures of hundreds of kid-directed mobile apps.  The report found the results “disappointing” and noted that they could potentially lead to FTC action against app providers found to be violating COPPA or Section 5 of the FTC Act.

Also in December, the FTC held a workshop to examine “comprehensive” data collection, which was one of five main action items listed by the FTC in its March 2012 privacy report.  Hearing from consumer protection groups, academics, privacy professionals, and business and industry representatives, the Commission achieved its primary objective of learning more about technologies that capture large amounts of consumer data during transactions that do not necessarily require consumer consent (e.g., ISP operations).  (The Commission had previously stated that consent is not required for the collection of data when it is consistent with a particular transaction or the company’s relationship with the consumer.)  There was a general consensus among the panelists that there are both benefits and potential harms from tracking, that consumers could be better informed about data collection, and that the FTC should be technology neutral in any potential regulation it might consider.