United States: FTC Sets Guidelines For Mobile Privacy Disclosures

The FTC issued a new report, Mobile Privacy Disclosures: Building Trust Through Transparency, on February 1, 2013, detailing the Commission's recommendations for best practices for key players in the mobile "ecosystem": mobile platforms, app developers, advertising networks, and other third parties such as analytics companies that collect and use data from mobile apps. The recommendations are intended to address the challenges of providing effective, accessible and timely privacy disclosures on mobile devices, given the limitations of mobile technology, including the small screen on most devices and the limited attention span of users. The report also suggests how other stakeholders, such as app developer trade associations, academics, usability experts and privacy researchers, can assist the major players in meeting the FTC's recommendations.

In the report, the FTC indicates that it has identified three key areas for ongoing work to address mobile privacy concerns: enforcement, outreach and policy initiatives. Concurrent with the release of the report, the FTC also announced a significant settlement with mobile social networking service Path, related to the discovery in February 2012 that the company's app collected and transmitted information from users' address books.

According to the report, the recommendations are based on the FTC's work in the area of privacy in the mobile space; the Commission's May 30, 2012, mobile privacy workshop, "In Short: Advertising and Privacy Disclosures in a Digital World"; and written submissions that the Commission received from industry stakeholders. The report specifically notes that these recommendations are best practices and that, to the extent that the recommendations exceed current legal requirements, the report "is not intended to serve as a template for law enforcement actions or regulations under laws currently enforced by the FTC." A summary of the FTC's recommendations, organized by industry participant, follows.

Mobile Platforms

According to the report, mobile platforms or providers of operating systems (Apple, Amazon, Google, BlackBerry and Microsoft, for example) that provide app developers, advertisers and others with access to users and user data from mobile devices through their application programming interfaces (APIs) and apps offered through their app stores play a key role in consumer privacy in the mobile space. Noting the significant control mobile platforms exert over app developers, given that the platforms essentially function as the gatekeepers between app developers and consumers, the report suggests that platforms could place greater emphasis on consumer privacy in their relationship with app developers.

The report recommends a number of best practices for mobile platforms:

  • Provide consistent disclosures at multiple points in time concerning the mobile content available to all apps through the API;
  • Provide just-in-time disclosures to consumers that are clear, accurate and understandable (i.e., use plain language and avoid the use of technical jargon); obtain affirmative express consent before allowing apps to access sensitive consumer data, such as geolocation information; and consider providing these disclosures and obtaining consent for other information that consumers might consider sensitive in many contexts, including contacts, photos, calendar entries, and recordings of audio or video content;
  • Consider developing a one-stop "privacy dashboard" providing consumers with the ability to review the apps they have downloaded and the types of data accessed by those apps, organized either by apps or content categories relating to significant types of information, including geolocation, contacts, calendar, and photographs and videos;
  • Consider developing and implementing icons to signal when an app is accessing user data (e.g., both Apple and Google currently utilize icons to signal to consumers when an app is collecting their geolocation information);
  • Use their control of and relationship with app developers to improve app developers' privacy disclosures, including promoting app developers' best practices, adding contractual provisions to require just-in-time disclosures and express consent, enforcing these requirements, and educating app developers about privacy and transparency;
  • Consider providing consumers with clear disclosures about the extent to which mobile platforms review apps prior to making them available for download in the app stores, and conduct compliance checks after the apps have been placed in the app stores; and
  • Consider offering a Do Not Track (DNT) mechanism at the mobile platform level that would prevent an entity from developing profiles about mobile users by allowing consumers to make a onetime choice rather than on an app-by-app basis.

App Developers

In light of the critical role that app developers play in informing consumers about mobile privacy, the FTC report includes a number of best practices for app developers:

  • Provide a privacy policy that is easily accessible to consumers through the app stores;
  • Provide just-in-time disclosures and obtain affirmative express consent before collecting and sharing sensitive information, including financial, health or children's data,that the FTC believes warrants special protection and before sharing this sensitive data with third parties;
  • Improve coordination and communication with ad networks and other third parties that provide services for apps, such as analytics companies, so the app developers can understand and better provide accurate disclosures to consumers;
  • Consider participating in self-regulatory programs, trade associations and industry organizations that can provide industry-wide guidance on how to make uniform, short-form privacy disclosures; and
  • Ensure that app-level disclosures do not repeat the mobile platform-level disclosures (e.g., an app should be able to rely on mobile platform disclosures that geolocation information will be collected by the app through APIs).

Advertising Networks and Other Third Parties

In its report, the FTC suggests that app developers frequently don't fully understand the functionality of the code that advertising networks provide to them to facilitate advertising or analytics within apps. The FTC suggests that advertising networks improve coordination and communication with app developers in order to enable app developers to better understand how the code works, thereby providing truthful and complete disclosures to consumers. The report recommends that advertising networks and other third parties that provide services for mobile apps do the following:

  • Communicate with app developers so that the developers can provide truthful disclosures to consumers; and
  • Work with mobile platforms to ensure effective implementation of DNT for mobile.

Other Industry Stakeholders

The report also suggests how other stakeholders, including app developer trade associations, academics, usability experts and privacy researchers, can assist the major players in improving transparency and meeting the FTC's recommendations:

  • Develop standardized interactive icons to depict an app's privacy practices;
  • Develop "badges" or other short-form disclosures that appear in apps or in-app advertising; 
  • Promote standardized app privacy policies to enable consumers to compare data practices across apps;
  • Consider conducting consumer testing of new mechanisms to ensure meaningful consumer comprehension; and
  • Educate app developers on privacy issues, including information collection and use practices.

FTC Settlement with Path Mobile Social Networking App

In the report, the FTC represents that it will continue to bring enforcement actions against companies in the mobile space, and concurrent with the announcement of the staff report, it announced an $800,000 settlement with start-up mobile social networking service Path. The FTC's complaint charged that the company deceived consumers by collecting information from their address books without their knowledge and consent and illegally collected information from children under age 13 without providing notice and obtaining parental consent, in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The settlement requires Path to implement a comprehensive privacy program and to obtain independent assessments of its privacy practices for the next 20 years.

Leadership Changes at the FTC

The release of the FTC's report on privacy disclosures in the mobile space comes as the Commission is experiencing a significant change in leadership. On January 31, 2013, Jon Leibowitz announced his anticipated resignation after eight years as chairman of the Commission, effective in mid-February. On December 31, David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Consumer Protection Bureau, left the Commission in order to return to Georgetown University Law Center, and Charles Harwood has been named acting director of the Consumer Protection Bureau.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.