Politics / Technology

The APPs Act: Mobile Privacy Concerns Before the NSA Scandal


Consumers in the modern age hold a precarious balance between privacy and technology.  While there is an inherent tradeoff between the two, consumer privacy is increasingly threatened.  Right now your cell phone is probably sitting right next to you with many downloaded applications.  Do you know what information is being collected at this very moment through those applications?

We are often unaware of the data that is being shared about our lives through our mobile devices.  Especially after the NSA scandal, Americans are becoming increasingly worried about their privacy.

One representative brought light to the lack of consumer privacy over cell phones much before the NSA scandal.  In early May, Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) introduced a bipartisan bill which would allow consumers more power over privacy on their mobile devices.  The Application, Privacy, and Security Act (APPs Act) would mandate stronger transparency and security requirements for app developers.

Watch Rep. Johnson introduce the APPs Act on the House Floor below:

According to Rep. Johnson, “many consumers do not know their data is being collected” through their mobile devices.  Rep. Johnson also stated that “we lack basic rights to control how and how much of our data is collected on our phones, iPads and tablets.”  Personal information, including a consumer’s location at any given time, is being collected and stored by many mobile developers.  This information is often shared with third parties.  But, consumers do not have the right to control what data is collected and shared on their smart phones.

The APPs Act would turn many Fair Information Practices (FIPs) into regulations governing mobile applications.  The Federal Trade Commission came up with five core FIPs concerning adequate privacy protection.  The FTC, however, does not enforce these FIPs.  Instead, the five core principles are mere suggestions for privacy protection.  The APPs act would allow the FTC to enforce and regulate the FIPs.

The act would require developers to provide notices to users regarding the collection and storage of personal information.  It would also require disclosures of the type of data being collected and which categories would be shared with third parties.  Developers would also need to state a data retention policy under this act in order to show that the data is being securely stored.

While the obligations to the developers may seem unnecessary, the mobile landscape remains largely unregulated and consumer privacy is often compromised.  The APPs act would be a first step to increasing consumer rights and privacy on cell phones—with its provisions enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.

Unfortunately, this bill is unlikely to pass the House of Representatives due to congressional gridlock and the overload of other bills passing through.  However, maybe after the NSA scandal, Americans will demand more privacy and protection of rights over their mobile devices.  This outcry may be the only way that this bill will pass.

In today’s world, we cannot trade off privacy for technology.  We must be vigilant and aware of what information is being collected and shared without our permission.  If our rights are compromised in any way, we have the right to be upset.  As consumers, we cannot allow something like the NSA scandal to happen again.  We need to be aware of privacy statements and information being collected through our devices in order to protect our rights to personal privacy and security.