The afternoon panels at yesterday’s FTC workshop focused on mobile issues, with the first focusing on mobile advertising disclosures and the second focusing on mobile privacy disclosures.

Some themes were common to both panels.  In particular, panelists in both sessions identified the unique challenges of designing disclosures that will effectively communicate with consumers who often may be distracted because they are multitasking and who are using smaller screens than their desktop-using counterparts.

To address these challenges, panelists said mobile services need to consider consumer expectations in the context of the particular application or transaction. They said that application developers and advertisers must find ways to prioritize the most important disclosures, format them in a way that is meaningful for mobile users, and present the disclosures at a time when consumers are most likely to pay attention to the information — often right before a transaction is completed or before an application transmits personal information.

Panel 3:  Mobile Advertising Disclosures.  According to the panelists, the general principles articulated in the Dot Com Disclosures guidance have held up remarkably well.

 “One of its greatest strengths is that [the Dot Com Disclosures guidance] is flexible,” reported Jim Halpert, general counsel of the Internet Commerce Coalition. Any new guidance should recognize that “there isn’t a right answer today that will necessarily be the right answer tomorrow,” he said.

Paul L. Singer, an assistant attorney general in the Texas Attorney General’s office, agreed that the basic principles embodied in the Dot Com Disclosures will continue to apply to mobile advertisements and other new technologies.  For instance, key disclosures about an offer should be displayed on the page near the offer itself and any call to action.  Halpert noted that many state laws already impose such proximity requirements for certain kinds of offers.

In the mobile context, panelists said site designers should consider how a general-use page will look if users zoom in on the part of the page displaying the offer.  Relevant disclosures should be visible on the same screen where users can accept an offer, without users having to scroll down or across, panelists said.  If not all of the relevant information can fit in the space, advertisers need to prioritize their disclosures depending on the type of offer at issue and whether any terms are particularly likely to surprise consumers.  It might sometimes be appropriate to link to additional information, but the link should be not use a generic label like “more info,” panelists said.  Labels such as “terms and conditions” or “restrictions” are likely to better catch consumers’ attention, said Sheryl Ann Yamuder, marketing and advertising counsel at Dunkin’ Brands, Inc.

Site designers should consider the mobile experience first and design their sites to adjust to other form factors using “responsive design” techniques, said Anne Bager, vice president and general manager of the Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence at the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Other panelists agreed that businesses would be wise to design their sites for mobile devices, but they noted that some best practices for desktop sites — such as making sure disclosures are placed close to the relevant offer — benefit mobile users even if a site is not specifically designed for mobile devices.

Panel 4:  Mobile Privacy Disclosures.  Even when applications disclose information about their privacy practices, consumers often do not understand exactly what the disclosures mean, reported Lorrie Faith Cranor, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University.  Cranor claimed that her research has found that most people interviewed did not understand the privacy permissions requests presented by the Android application marketplace. Effective disclosures should explain not only what data is being collected but also what will be done with the data, Cranor said.  More intrusive forms of collection should be accompanied by more robust notices in a variety of online and offline formats, said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum.

Several participants on the panel presented disclosure tools being designed by their organizations to make it easier for online services to highlight important information for consumers.  They emphasized, however, that all of these tools are under active development.

Ilana Westerman of Create with Context, Inc., presented a prototype tool designed for the Android platform that uses an icon in the operating system’s notification bar to alert consumers when a phone is transmitting personal information.  Through Android’s notification area, users can see more information about the exact data being accessed and any available opt-outs. Create with Context is developing the tool as part of the Digital Trust Initiative, an independent effort sponsored by the Future of Privacy Forum, AOL, Visa, Yahoo!, and Verizon.

Sara Kloek, director of outreach for the Association for Competitive Technology, presented a set of privacy-practice icons being developed by Moms with Apps in response to an FTC report earlier this year regarding privacy disclosures in apps directed at children.  Those icons have already gone through several redesigns in response to testing and feedback.  Jim Brock, founder of PrivacyChoice, discussed the group’s privacy-policy resource center for app developers, while Kevin Trilli, a vice president of TRUSTe, discussed TRUSTe’s efforts to promote layered privacy policy designs that highlight the most important disclosures.

Given the variety of possible approaches and the still-evolving state of the mobile marketplace, it is “too early in the process to say we need a checkbox here or an icon there,” Westerman said.

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Next Steps.  The FTC is accepting written comments on these issues through July 11, 2012. Mary K. Engle, associate director of the FTC Division of Advertising Practices, reported that while there is no firm timetable for Commission action on these issues, the Commission hopes to issue updated guidance this fall.