Feature Article

July 29, 2013

Mobile Apps to Get 'Nutrition Labels'?

Natasha Singer of the New York Times reports that some mobile apps may soon start providing information that “allows consumers to decide at a glance whether the apps are good for them,” likening the proposed transparency to nutrition labels on food. Several groups of developers and consumer advocates have agreed to test a mobile app code of conduct that will have app developers offering a notice about whether certain apps will be collecting personal information from users.

The United States Commerce Department has created the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to delve into the interest of mobile users and their information being used by app developers. Simple mobile apps may be accessing unnecessary information, such as photos or phone numbers, to be used for other purposes.

This code of conduct is being developed and backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, World Privacy Forum, and Applications Developers Alliance. Apple and Google, two of the biggest mobile app developers, have yet to commit to signing such a code of conduct. “It’s a victory for common sense,” said Tim Sparapani, vice president for law, policy, and government relations at the Application Developers Alliance, a group that consists of more than 100 companies and 20,000 individual developers.

This new code of conduct will mean that members of this coalition of mobile app developers must show whether or not their apps will be gathering users’ information in any of these eight categories: biometric security, web browsing history, contact lists, phone or text logs, financial information, GPS tracking, health records, and stored information on mobile phones.

While this seems like a good thing for everyone, there are opponents to this new mobile privacy code of conduct. They feel as though these notices that will pop up will give the users very little information about what information is being taken through mobile apps. It is believed that the “nutritional label” format will not allow users the ability to avoid the data-mining that many companies use. Susan Grant, who is the director of customer protection at the Consumer Federation of America, a group that represents over 300 consumer groups, said of the issue, “A very modest slice of privacy was put forward and as time went on, that slice became more and more narrowed.” Grant abstained during Thursday’s vote on whether or not they would support the code of conduct.

Edited by Ryan Sartor

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