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Inside Privacy Updates on Developments in Global Privacy & Data Security from Covington & Burling LLP

NTIA Privacy Multistakeholder Group Discusses Process, Substance

Posted in Department of Commerce, Mobile, Privacy Policies

Privacy stakeholders gathered today at NTIA to once again discuss how the group might move forward in developing a code of conduct for mobile app transparency.  While no decisions were made, the group identified a number of topics that would be appropriate to tackle early in the process.  There also appeared to be consensus among those in attendance around a proposal to have the scheduled September 19, 2012 meeting focus on a discussion of various technological issues that will inform future discussions, though that suggestion was not formally adopted today 

In advance of the meeting, NTIA circulated a document that organized the substantive elements of proposals suggested in prior meetings.  This list was used as the foundation for the morning’s discussion.  Tasked with the goal of identifying which of the various topics should be discussed first in the process, stakeholders made a number of suggestions and observations, often building on previous discussions.  Specifically, a number of individuals focused attention on the need to educate consumers about exactly what types of information mobile apps collect and how this information is being used.  Commentators noted that consumers need to make informed choices about whether to share their personal data.  It was also noted, though, that such a decision requires not just an understanding of the privacy issues at stake, but also the economics behind mobile applications and the consequences regulations or restrictions on the use of personal information can have.

The importance of leveling the knowledge playing field within the group was also discussed numerous times.  Several association and industry representatives offered to host information sessions related to the business and technology of mobile apps.  Consumer groups asked that such meetings also allow for questions and an exploration of what practices are in place currently and what direction mobile apps might move in the future.  An online forum and wiki have been launched by some of the stakeholders to support the sharing of information and ideas.

Members of the group also suggested that defining “mobile app” and the intended scope of the eventual code of conduct be considered in upcoming meetings or informal discussions.  Several members discussed how consumer expectations of privacy should be factored into the process and what tools might best measure these expectations.  There was also a general consensus among attendees that existing codes of conduct, whether used by the industry or proposed by consumer groups, should be used as a starting point for discussions.

Process issues continued to generate some debate among the group members.  While there was general support for technology sessions, some expressed concern that all members were not informed of some of the proposed discussions.  Further, dueling perspectives were raised about how work should be broken down into smaller tasks.  On one hand, some group members believe that formalizing working groups stalls progress and makes finding common ground more difficult. On the other hand, at least one commentator expressed the view that informal groups were antithetical to transparency of the process.  Additionally, several representatives of consumer groups advocated for a deeper exploration of what constituencies were represented within the group. 

No decisions were made on any of these points, but NTIA collected the proposals and recorded the informal voting, and should release this information before the next meeting on its web site.