Mobile Privacy Bill Stalls behind Partisan Issues

by Matt Klassen on May 22, 2013

The increasing public clamour around mobile privacy, particularly as it relates to the information accessed, stored, and shared by mobile applications, has finally reached the ears of those in Washington, as last week Rep. Hank Johnson, D-GA, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that demands application developers gain explicit consent from users before collecting their information. This bill would further require developers to provide secure storage of that information and inform users how long the data would be stored.

Now granted this isn’t the first response we’ve seen on the issue of mobile privacy from Washington, as earlier this year the Federal Trade Commission released its own report on the issue of mobile privacy, offering several recommendations for a framework designed around bolstering user control over personal data, but this latest bill at least shows the issue is finally being taken seriously.

With supporters in both parties one might think this much needed mobile privacy bill would have a relatively quick trip through the bureaucratic process, but it looks like timing, not content, will likely see it languish instead, as other more important divisive issues will likely dominate the political scene for months, if not years, to come, leaving mobile privacy simmering on the backburner.

There have been so many flagrant abuses of user privacy in the mobile space over the past several years that one simply cannot list them all, including high profile indiscretions from the likes of Apple, Google, and Facebook. Such repeated abuse of user privacy has sent public interest groups into a frenzy, with many privacy advocates urging Washington to step in and begin to lay down some ground rules in what is a relatively lawless mobile space.

While such proposed changes to mobile application development may have some developers wary of the future, there is perhaps not as much to worry about, as similar legislation is already on the books in several states.

“For those app developers that already disclose the purpose for collecting, using, sharing and storing personal data, and require consumer consent before collecting the data, the proposed legislation would not significantly change the way the app works,” Justine Phillips, attorney with McKenna Long & Aldridge, told the E-Commerce Times. What this means is that app developers who don’t currently disclose data collection and use will have to develop a disclosure screen, forcing the user to ‘agree’ to terms of usage.

Additionally there’s some good news for developers as well, as the proposed legislation includes a safe harbor provision, meaning there’s some protection for developers and organizations who comply with the new rules, a valuable tool in consumer class action lawsuits.

In the end though, despite the significant pros in further legislation in the mobile space, app developers likely have nothing to worry about—at least for the short term—for the simple fact that bipartisan agreement on mobile privacy will have to wait until all the more important partisan issues get sorted out…and that might take awhile.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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