Software Devs Must be Honest About Apps, Feds Say

In a publication released this month, the Federal Trade Commission outlined its expectations for software developers as many enterprises prepare investments in mobile technology.

by / September 12, 2012

The Federal Trade Commission released new guidelines this month encouraging software developers to be mindful of privacy, security and the truth when building their applications. Failure to do so could result in fines. The guidance comes as many enterprises get ready for large investments in smartphone and tablet technology.

"Emerging mobile applications, systems and devices are transforming the [application development] (AD) space rapidly, and are one of the top three CIO priorities at the enterprise level," analyst firm Gartner said. "Gartner research found that CIOs expect more than 20 percent of their employees to use tablets instead of laptops by 2013, hastening the process of change as AD tools and applications evolve to address the requirements of these new devices."

In the new publication, called “Marketing Your Mobile App: Get It Right from the Start,” the FTC outlined several key points they wanted developers to honor.

  • Tell the Truth About What Your App Can Do. – “Whether it’s what you say on a website, in an app store, or within the app itself,  you have to tell the truth,” the publication advises;
  • Disclose Key Information Clearly and Conspicuously. – “If you need to disclose information to make what you say accurate, your disclosures have to be clear and conspicuous.”
  • Build Privacy Considerations in From the Start. – Incorporate privacy protections into your practices, limit the information you collect, securely store what you hold on to, and safely dispose of what you no longer need.   “For any collection or sharing of information that’s not apparent, get users’ express agreement.  That way your customers aren’t unwittingly disclosing information they didn’t mean to share.”
  • Offer Choices that are Easy to Find and Easy to Use. – “Make it easy for people to find the tools you offer, design them so they’re simple to use, and follow through by honoring the choices users have made.”
  • Honor Your Privacy Promises. – “Chances are you make assurances to users about the security standards you apply or what you do with their personal information.  App developers – like all other marketers – have to live up to those promises.”
  • Protect Kids’ Privacy. – “If your app is designed for children or if you know that you are collecting personal information from kids, you may have additional requirements under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.”
  • Collect Sensitive Information Only with Consent. – Even when you’re not dealing with kids’ information, it’s important to get users’ affirmative OK before you collect any sensitive data from them, like medical, financial, or precise geolocation information.
  • Keep User Data Secure. – Statutes like the Graham-Leach-Bliley Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Federal Trade Commission Act may require you to provide reasonable security for sensitive information.  The FTC has free resources to help you develop a security plan appropriate for your business.  One place to start:  Protecting Personal Information:  A Guide for Business.

Check out the full FTC publication here.