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IDG News Service - The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration's first step toward developing a consensus on mobile privacy standards may be the wrong step, privacy advocates said.
The NTIA's first multistakeholder meeting on mobile privacy, Thursday in Washington, D.C., focused on ways to improve the transparency of the privacy practices of mobile apps, but several privacy advocates questioned the value of creating more transparency without rules on the way apps will use the personal data of users. Mobile privacy standards need to also address the fair collection of data, security and other issues in addition to transparency, said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection for the Consumer Federation of America.
"Transparency, in itself, has no value," added Pat Walshe, director of privacy at GSMA, a mobile carrier trade group. "People need tools, they need mechanisms, to express choice."
During much of meeting, meeting facilitator Marc Chinoy, president of the Regis Group, asked the audience of more than 200 people for ideas on how to improve mobile app transparency. Several participants offered ideas, including software that can tell mobile device users what private information they're sharing, and the use of icons to represent privacy concepts, instead of long, multipage privacy policies.
NTIA officials defended the focus on mobile transparency, saying it was a discrete area where participants in the process could possibly reach agreement. Participants in the process to develop privacy codes of conduct will decide the direction of the process in the future, said Lawrence Strickling, NTIA's administrator. "We had to start somewhere," he said.
Participants in the meeting voted on several areas that should be priorities. The group should, in the near term, develop a description of personal data used by mobile apps, should determine why data is collected and should determine what data is collected outside of an app's core functionality, participants said in a series of votes. The group should also focus on ways to notify users about the data collected in the appropriate context, they said.
But several participants urged the NTIA to take a step back and tell participants what it hopes to accomplish or describe in the multistakeholder process going forward. The NTIA's process to develop privacy standards "is unduly amorphous at this point," said Alan Raul, a privacy lawyer with the Sidley Austin law firm.
Berin Szoka, founder of free-market think tank TechFreedom, questioned whether a room full of people with "no business experience" would be able to create workable privacy standards for the mobile industry. The NTIA process will likely fail, he said, because it's led by the government and not industry.
The NTIA participants may be able to provide feedback to mobile app developers, but business decisions on privacy practices should be made "behind closed doors" by people in the industry, he said.