Ina Fried

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Industry-backed Group Looks to Help App Developers Create Privacy-Friendly Policies

With all the attention being given to mobile devices and privacy, one industry group is trying to help individual app developers that might want to do the right thing but don’t know where to start when it comes to privacy policies and other best practices.

The industry-backed Future of Privacy Forum is launching a new Web site on Thursday that will give developers tools to create their own privacy policies as well as links to other important documentation, such as the privacy-related terms that are part of the major smartphone platform agreements. The Web site is being created with financial backing from Zynga, Facebook, AT&T, Google, Intel and TrustE.

“This was an area where we thought we could do something useful,” said Future of Privacy Forum Jules Polonetsky, a former chief privacy officer for DoubleClick and AOL.

While much of the attention has been focused on the industry heavyweights, such as the OS makers like Apple and Google, or perhaps the carriers and hardware makers, Polonetsky argues that the app makers are also an important part of the equation.

“The application developers are getting the data and using it and are certainly a key part of the process, but nobody is talking to them,” Polonetsky said.

Indeed, there are all kinds of apps out there that are collecting data well beyond that needed for their application, including location-based data, access to the Internet, phone dialer and other user information. Of course, there is also legitimate concern about the actions of the bigger players in the industry, including the platform players, about how they are collecting, storing and using data gathered from mobile devices.

Two Senate subcommittees have already held hearings on the matter, with Senator Al Franken calling for Apple and Google to demand app developers put privacy policies in place.

Polonetsky said he knows some of the rules in this area have yet to be written, but said his group’s Web site at least gives people a starting point.

“Certainly all the rules don’t exist yet,” he said.

But it is not exactly a blank canvas either. Polonetsky noted that a lot of this feels like déjà vu for him, having been through a similar period more than a decade ago when concerns arose over how much data Web sites were collecting and sharing with Internet ad networks. Now, he said, the same attention is being paid to apps and mobile ad networks.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus