In the never ending, always expanding world of technology, the FTC is the final arbiter for US companies or companies doing business with US device owners when it comes to deciding what’s allowed and what isn’t.  The EU has its own set of privacy standards and enforcements and if you’re doing business in the EU, it would certainly behoove you to keep abreast of developments and requirements in the region.

Tomorrow’s meeting is scheduled to discuss the following:

  • What different types of mobile device tracking are companies currently implementing, how do they work, and where are they used?
  • What are potential future uses of these technologies?
  • What are the similarities or differences between mobile device tracking and online tracking technologies?
  • What types of information and benefits do retailers gain from these technologies?
  • What benefits do consumers derive from these technologies?
  • What are the privacy and security risks associated with these technologies?
  • How are companies addressing these risks?
  • What information and choices are provided to consumers about this type of tracking?
  • How anonymous is the tracking?
  • How can companies implement the principles of privacy by design, simplified consumer choice, and increased transparency when designing and using these technologies?

Consumer watchdog groups have long been active in attempting to persuade legislators and regulators to curtail activities involving consumer devices that they feel are intruding on end user privacy – and this was before the recent, ongoing revelations detailing the methods used by the US and other governments to monitor and store electronic transmissions and documents without disclosing their actions.

Ideally, device owners enter into a partnership with app developers, analytics purveyors and payment processors that enable each to make the most efficient use of technology without delving too far into personal data and information that could be considered objectionable.  Reality is that most end users don’t understand why an app that claims to be a compass needs access to the telephony component of their device, and are easily misled by those folks who claim malice at every turn.

Explaining to a device owner that the compass needs to know when the phone is ringing in order to allow the user to answer the call doesn’t sound nearly as devious as claiming that Facebook is sharing everything on everyone’s page publicly all the time (which certainly makes the case that there’s way too much oversharing going on to begin with) and that hovering over this and clicking that will fix it; all those directions really lead to is someone else checking Snopes and cut/pasting their summary so that in two more weeks someone else will start the whole thing again.

The other side of reality is that there are unscrupulous companies out there.  On the innerwebs, in the app community, in the SMS world, and you get the idea.   Those companies who are actively benefiting from shady practices that not only rob end users of their privacy but also give the industry a bad name need to be regulated.  And need to be fined.  Whatever it takes to clean it up.   Quickly, while we still have the confidence of the end user displayed in the number of times each second that someone else downloads an and installs an app or clicks a link or plays a viral video.

There is a fine line between the wild west and good business.  There is also a fine line between correctly legislating and regulating and stifling innovation by placing excessive burdens on developers and marketers.

Making sure you are on the correct side of the rules and policies is a fundamental part of your business.  You should not ignore it; stick your head in the sand and it won’t go away.  It will come back to bite you in the hind quarters while you can’t see through the sand.

FTC Spring Privacy Series: Mobile Device Tracking takes place tomorrow at 10AM Eastern time and there is a link to the live webcast on the page.