Senator Al Franken recently sent a letter to Apple and Google asking them to require all applications available in the Apple App Store and the Android App Market to have “clear and understandable” privacy policies.  He made a similar request at a Senate hearing on mobile privacy earlier this month. 

Franken’s letter cites a study by TRUSTe and Harris Interactive that found that only 19 percent of the top free apps link to a privacy policy.  Franken’s letter describes requiring privacy policies as a “simple first step” toward protecting mobile privacy, suggesting privacy policies would aid federal consumer protection authorities in understanding apps’ information practices.  He states that, at minimum, Apple and Google should require location-aware applications to disclose what location information is gathered and how is used and shared.

Franken’s effort to expand the role of privacy policies in the mobile realm comes at a time of growing criticism of the role of privacy policies on traditional websites.  For instance, the Federal Trade Commission staff’s influential privacy report, released last December, criticized privacy policies as overly lengthy and difficult for consumers to understand.  On the other hand, privacy policies only serve their function if they offer sufficiently comprehensive information to provide adequate notice of privacy practices.  The challenges of balancing simplicity with comprehensiveness are heightened in the mobile space, where smaller screens limit flexibility in how information is displayed.