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Consumer Rights Groups Decry New App Transparency Code

Tue, 07/30/2013 - 10:15am
Ben Munson

Consumer groups are coming out against a new code of conduct for mobile app data collection. The first-draft initiative—composed by technology companies, consumer advocate groups and trade associations and revealed last week on NTIA’s website—is meant to boost transparency between consumers and app developers but advocates like the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) are saying it doesn’t do enough.

The CDD argues that the notice drafted for attachment to apps doesn’t go far enough toward informing users about what data will be collected and how it will be used.

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) called both the code and the process for developing the code “seriously flawed.”

“It is not surprising that the product is so flawed given the problems with the process itself. There was never any clear procedure for how it would work and what would constitute success. There was no legal framework on which the code could be built, so that even terms such as “user data” are not clear and universally understood,” the CFA said in its statement.

The CFA added that the code requires developers to disclose when users’ information is being shared with a third party but not if that third party is a part of the same corporate structure at the app developer.

Consumer Watchdog blasted the apparent disconnect between a company supporting the code without being accountable for implementing it as “absurd Orwellian doublespeak.”

“A company can put out a press release saying it supports the Transparency Code, boosting its public image and then do absolutely nothing,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project director.

The code calls on developers to identify types of information being collected by category, which are broken down as follows: Biometrics, browser history, phone or text log, contacts, financial information, health or medical information, location, user files.

NTIA has encouraged technology companies to test the code with their users and CTIA concurred that testing will be vital in developing the final draft. The code, worked on by large companies like Facebook, Google and Apple, has received support from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

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