The FTC has campaigned for 'Do Not Track' capabilities in web browsing, and now it's looking to see it happen in mobile technology as well. In his testimony, FTC's Director of Bureau of Consumer Protection, David Vladeck told the senate committee consumers there is a need for privacy in the mobile marketplace, where vast amounts of data can be collected without consumer knowledge.
The Wall Street Journal has documented numerous companies gaining access to detailed information - such as age, gender, precise location, and the unique identifiers associated with a particular mobile device - that can be used to track and predict consumers' every move, Vladeck said.
Do Not Track, which has been implemented as a feature on several major browsers, would allow consumers to opt-out out of all web-tracking. The FTC is currently examining how Do Not Track could be applied to mobile applications.
In its testimony, Vladeck focused on the usage of smartphone apps by younger people. Citing a Pew Internet Research study, the FTC said the number of 12 to 17 year olds with a cell phone increased from 45 percent in 2004 to 75 percent in 2009.
The Commission has a long history of working to protect the privacy of young people in the online environment, Vladeck said. In recent years, the advent of new technologies and new ways to collect data, including through mobile devices, has heightened concerns about the protection of young people when online.
It is currently reviewing the Children's Online Privacy Protection (COPPA) Rule, which requires websites to get verifiable parental consent before collecting information from children under 13 years old. It is looking to determine whether new technologies, such as cell phone apps, are encompassed by, and conducted in accordance with, COPPA's parameters
The FTC has taken significant action in its focus on protecting consumer's mobile privacy. This has included hiring technologists and assembling a team to conduct research, monitoring various platforms, app stores, and applications.
Protecting the privacy and security of consumer information is a critical component of the Commission's focus on mobile technologies and services. We will continue to bring law enforcement actions where appropriate and work with industry and consumer groups to develop workable solutions that allow companies to continue to innovate and give consumers the new products and services they desire, Vladeck said.
Meanwhile, Apple and Google provided testimony to the subcommittee and defended their actions in mobile related privacy. As Senators John Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and John Kerry of Massachusetts expressed their desire for congress to pass a bill that would give address smartphone privacy, both companies said they do not retain consumer information without permission. Furthermore, Google's Alan Davidson said the company is looking into whether apps should have privacy policies or not.