focus on privacy in the age of exploding mobile apps continued Thursday, with Senate
Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.)
saying the Federal Trade Commission needed to do more to protect kids.
In a hearing on Consumer Privacy and Protection in the
Mobile Marketplace Thursday in
Commerce's Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance
Subcommittee, Rockefeller pressed FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection
Director David Vladeck on just what the FTC was doing about enforcing
current child online protection laws, particularly as regards mobile apps.
Vladeck said the laws applied to mobile apps and that
it had taken actions against some companies, was teeing up other mobile
app-related actions, and was currently preparing its report on how to
update COPPA (the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act).
Rockefeller urged Vladeck to finish that update
ASAP; Vladeck said he had gotten the message "loud and clear." Vladeck also
pointed out the FTC had assembled a team to focus on app stores and mobile platforms
and was looking at mobile implications as a regular part of its investigations.
Both Rockefeller and Senate Communications Subcommittee
Chair John Kerry (D-Mass.) made it clear they believe there must be a baseline
standard of protection of information, notice and choice, either coming from
industry or Capitol Hill, or a cooperative combination of both, but enforceable
by the FTC.
Kerry said that while Congress took a hands-off approach in
the 1990's not to stifle innovation. He said he thinks it was the right
decision, not to let privacy eclipse or slow that innovation. "But we are
in a diferent place, we just are," he said. He said companies like
Google and Facebook and Apple, who were all represented at the hearing,
need to join HP, eBay, Microsoft and others coming down on the side of common
sense restrictions. "I reject the notion that privacy protection is
the enemy of innovation," he said, arguing that it will promote the space
by allowing folks to better trust the marketplace.
Kerry also put in a plug for freeing up spectrum and the
FCC's National Broadband Plan when touting the wonders of the Internet, which
included the benefits of location-based services and information collection and
But, he said, there needs to be a basic code of conduct to
establish what society believes is the proper care and handling of that
The answer is not just to shut off location services,
for example, he said, because some of those are ones we want. But he
said it is no longer an option to leave decisions about use and sharing to
companies on an ad hoc basis in the absence of any controlling privacy law.
Kerry, who last month introduced an online privacy bill,
thinks that baseline should be that consumers, regardless of technology or
platform, should know when they are being tracked, why, for how long, what uses
that info is being put to, with whom the information is being shared, and have
the ability to reject the practice and legal protections if that choice is not
Rockefeller said he associated himself with every comma and
semicolon of Kerry's remarks.
The FTC, for one, has recommended baking privacy protections
into technologies and services from the outset as a way for industry to deal
with issue of protecting privacy.
The hearing also hosted top execs from Apple and Google and
Facebook, all of whom have been in the spotlight lately over issues of information
protection and sharing, including the geolocation services that were a
focus of much of the hearing.
The legislators all acknowledged there was value in
location-based apps, but had concerns about that tracking info.
Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), chairman of the subcommittee
said that tracking without express consent is unacceptable. He pointed to
safety concerns like stalkers who have used location information to track
victims, or an app that allows phones to be surreptitiously tracked.
Accentuating the positive of those services was Alan
Davidson, Director of Public Policy for the Americas,
for Google. He pointed out that the Post Office had an app for helping find the
nearest mailbox, then there was one for real-time traffic, or finding the nearest
gas station, or cheeseburger.
But he said location apps go beyond convenience. They
can be lifesavers, finding the closest pharmacy at 1
a.m. for a sick child, the nearest hospital or police station.
Amber alerts may be able to be directed to cell phones within seconds of a
reported kidnapping, or warn those in the path of a hurricane or tornado.
All the companies said they were attuned to privacy concerns
and had policies in place to protect information.
The Thursday hearing followed a similar gathering last week
in the Senate privacy subcommittee.