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Timothy B. Lee

Timothy B. Lee

Timothy B. Lee covers technology policy, including copyright and patent law, telecom regulation, privacy, and free speech. He also writes about the economics of technology. He has previously written for Ars Technica and Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter or send him email.

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Brian Fung

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Andrea Peterson

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government. She also delves into the societal impacts of technology access and how innovation is intertwined with cultural development.

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Posted at 11:28 AM ET, 02/01/2013

FTC offers mobile privacy guidelines, settles with Path on child privacy breach, improper data mining

The Federal Trade Commission has released guidelines for mobile privacy that focus on informing users about how apps collect and use personal information.

The FTC suggestions on improving data disclosure are aimed at major players in the industry, from app developers and advertising networks to the giant tech companies that distribute the apps, such as Apple, Google and Facebook.

Agency chairman Jon Leibowitz, who announced plans to step down in mid-February. has made consumer privacy protection a priority during his tenure. He said that it’s imperative that the agency keep up with the pace of technology, particularly when mobile devices and apps are able to collect so much information about individual users.

Leibowitz said this will likely be the last public announcement he will make as chairman and that he has not decided what his next step will be.

The report’s recommendations include asking platforms to provide “just-in-time disclosures” to let users know immediately when apps on their networks collect personal information and to allow users to actively consent to that collection.

Developers, the report suggests, should simplify the way they display privacy policies by using a central dashboard that allows users to get a clear view of how they are sharing information.

Platforms should consider offering a Do Not Track mechanism for smartphone users, the FTC said, to prevent unauthorized ad network tracking between apps on the same phone.

Morgan Reed, president of the Association for Competitive Technology app developers’ trade group, said that FTC’s report offers sensible guidelines for industry best practices.

The National Telecommunications Information Administration is also working with multiple stakeholders to come up with privacy best practices for the industry. Leibowitz said the FTC has been coordinating with the NTIA and considers its report “complementary.”

The agency also announced that it has settled with the social networking app Path, which it charged with improperly collecting address book data from its users and violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The social network will pay $800,000 to settle charges that it collected children’s personal information without proper parental consent and must undergo independent privacy assessments every other year for the next 20 years.

Path has apologized to users for its actions, the company posted a statement on its blog Friday.

“We want to share our experience and learnings in the hope that others in our industry are reminded of the importance of making sure services are in full compliance with rules like COPPA,” the company said. Path said it has since closed affected accounts.

As for the FTC’s report, Leibowitz said that the app industry should take the recommendations to heart or they’ll likely face federal privacy legislation down the line. Lawmakers would pass such measures quickly, he believe.

“Privacy is the quintessential bipartisan issue in Congress,” he noted.

By  |  11:28 AM ET, 02/01/2013

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