July 12, 2012

Mobile Privacy Comes to the White House

Privacy is a big deal on the desktop. Need evidence? Google’s expected settlement for sidestepping user privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser. Now the heat is on for privacy in mobile, too. The first meeting in President Obama’s “Privacy Bill of Rights Meetings” series kicks off this week, and the topic is mobile privacy and user transparency.

According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the taskforce behind the meeting, mobile privacy is a big deal and these devices “pose direct privacy challenges,” including disclosing privacy information on a small display.

At Lookout, we’re glad to see D.C. pay attention to mobile privacy. Protecting individuals and their mobiles devices requires more than malware and missing device protection, it also requires strong privacy controls.

Over the last year, we’ve tracked an increase in the incidence of mobile ads infringing on end-user privacy. Much of this activity could be linked backed to aggressive advertising, which includes accessing personal information like email or phone number without suitable notification or transparency; changing the settings on the mobile browser; displaying ads outside of mobile application and in the notification bar.

Based on analysis from Lookout, more than five percent of free apps have included aggressive ad networks, affecting  millions of people. Apps containing these aggressive ad providers have been downloaded at least 80 million times.

It’s important that regulators, industry stakeholders and technologists come to the table now, while the mobile industry is still maturing to set a clear framework that will guide user protection while maintaining a healthy economy. We’re hopeful to see what comes out of the first “Privacy Bill of Rights Meeting.”

Lookout has also taken action to help improve mobile privacy through a couple of initiatives:

  • Mobile App Advertising Guidelines: equips mobile app advertisers and developers with clear privacy and user experience guidelines as they explore new mobile advertising techniques.
  • Ad Network Detector: a free app that scans your phone or tablet for the presence of the most common ad networks used in mobile apps, giving you insight into what types of ads can be displayed, and what information is gathered by the ad networks. With easy access to this information, individuals can make a more informed choice regarding whether thet want to keep certain apps on their phone.
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