The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration drafted guidelines for mobile application developers on July 25 that are intended to provide more transparency between the app and the user in regards to privacy controls and what personal data is collected for what purpose. While the guidelines themselves leave something to be desired from any user yearning for more secure data collection practices, they have the potential to be the first step in appeasing current user outrage at the U.S.’s broad surveillance practices.
In the wake of the June 6 revelations leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the data collection practices of the U.S. government, the public outcry has extended globally to include widespread criticism of internet providers, telcos, and social networks as users remain enraged and mystified as to the methods and extent of personal data culling performed by the National Security Agency. Big tech firms themselves have asked for allowance to publish government-based requests for user data in an attempt to quell user ire. (Privacy agreements, like that of Apple’s iTunes service, have become the oft-cited digital documents at the center of these practices, mocked and criticized for their lengths and complexities.) The new drafted guidelines from the NTIA describe how participating mobile apps must detail the use of user data in the form of a “short notice”.
But the language of the guidelines is, by no means, reassuring that they will have any solid effect on the relationship of mobile app and user. They only apply to “app developers and publishers that voluntarily elect to enhance transparency”, and reports note that there have been no companies signed to the drafted rules thus far. Within the guidelines themselves, there also exists a host of exceptions to the short-form rule. So, as a volunteer-based, loophole-ridden first draft, the guidelines seem rather ineffective.
But, it is important to remember that this policy is still in its infancy. Users could demand more transparency, forcing app developers to sign on to the regulation. Or it could become a stamp of approval; apps could boast a “NTIA-participating” label to lure prospective users and ensure them that such apps comply with the security standards of the guidelines. It is too soon to tell what kind of effect such a policy will have, yet it remains a small, albeit timid step towards remedying the breeding skepticism internet and mobile users have of online services requiring personal information.