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NTIA to look at mobile apps and consumer data

From the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to the Federal Trade Commission, mobile payments and m-commerce will certainly have plenty of government organizations, bureaus and departments providing oversight when they're fully up to speed. Now another agency is stepping up to provide additional adult supervision, this one looking at the online world from the perspective of protecting consumers' data. And its oversight could have broad implications for mobile commerce, payments and financial services.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, said it will take a crack at protecting consumers, specifically looking at how companies that collect personal data online can ensure they're safeguarding that information.

The NTIA is the agency that advises the president on telecommunications policy. It has recently been tasked with establishing a set of privacy standards for companies to follow in support of the administration's "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights," a part of the White House's framework for protecting consumer data online. The White House issued its framework earlier this year. 

The first NTIA meeting on consumer privacy will convene on July 12, 2012, in Washington D.C. This will be the first in a series of meetings intended to address consumer privacy online and will bring together stakeholders, experts and privacy advocates to discuss the matter. The inaugural meeting will focus specifcially on consumer data and mobile applications, as well as the particular challenges of protecting user information on mobile devices.

The NTIA said it chose mobile apps as its first subject due to the feedback it received from the public when it solicited comments on the issues of consumer privacy earlier this year. The NTIA received more than eighty comments in total from individuals and groups representing companies, advocacy groups, academia and government.

"We selected this topic (mobile applications) based on the input we received from stakeholders around the country," said NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling, in announcing the meeting. "We think it is a relatively discrete issue on which stakeholders can make significant progress in a reasonable amount of time."

Additionally, Strickling said, the topic of mobile applications and consumer privacy is a timely one.

"Mobile apps have exploded in popularity and are now providing substantial benefits to consumers and tools for innovation to companies," Strickling said. "But they clearly pose distinct privacy challenges such as how to disclose relevant privacy information on a small display."

According to the NTIA, its role in the process of protecting consumer data is simply to provide a forum for discussion and to build consensus among stakeholders such as providers, developers, consumer groups, privacy advocates and technology experts.

"The NTIA-convened process will encourage stakeholders to develop a code of conduct that promotes transparent disclosures to consumers concerning mobile apps' treatment of personal data," the agency said in announcing the first meeting.

"A code of conduct would give mobile app-related businesses greater certainty about how the Privacy Blueprint's transparency principle applies to them," the agency said. The enforceable code of conduct will translate the principles in the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights into specific business contexts.

Additionally, a code of conduct would offer consumers some visibility into how companies that provide mobile applications and interactive services for mobile devices manage consumers' data, the NTIA said. 

For more stories like this, visit the Regulatory Issues research center.

(photo credit: ttarasiuk)

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