Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission has been eyeing online consumer privacy issues for several years, and recently articulated a proposal for a do-not-track mechanism that would be built into the Web browser, creating an opt-out list in the fashion of the popular Do-Not-Call registry that governs the activities of telemarketers. The Commerce Department's proposal for privacy legislation would give the FTC new authorities to regulate Internet companies, powers that the FTC sought, but failed to secure, in the financial regulatory reform bill that was signed into law in 2010.
Meantime, industry groups have been working to demonstrate that they are serious about offering meaningful consumer protections, trying to convince lawmakers and executive officials that self-regulation is sufficient. The most prominent of those efforts is the Digital Advertising Alliance, a consortium of leading advertising and marketing trade associations that has been developing a framework for providing consumers more information about how data is collected and used and offering the choice of opting out of targeted ads.
The mobile arena, of course, poses unique challenges, including the plain fact that screens are smaller so there is less real estate in which to offer such notices.
Advocates at Tuesday's meeting asked NTIA to consider including provisions concerning the size of privacy notices in mobile apps, as well as features such as so-called just-in-time notification, which would alert a user when certain information is about to be collected, and guidance to ensure that notices are delivered in meaningful context.
But time and again, the participants reiterated how much more information about industry practices they need from companies in the mobile-app sector before they can begin drafting language for a code of conduct, as NTIA intends to as the culmination of this process.
"We have to understand what it is first before we can talk about how to express it," said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America.