Mobile Privacy: Congress Should Give Multistakeholder Discussions More time

Today,  the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider legislation sponsored by Senator Al Franken (D-MN), the Location Privacy Protection Act of 2011 (S.1223), that would require app providers to seek affirmative “opt-in” consent from consumers before using their location information.

As with all consumer privacy issues, users trust in mobile app privacy is absolutely critical.  Without consumer trust, demand stalls, innovations is stifled and neither businesses nor users interests are served.  Straight-up, a lack of trust is a lose-lose. However, multistakeholder discussions have been ongoing since June of this year, engaging a wide range of industry and civil society in an effort, led by the Department of Commerce NTIA, to develop a voluntary code of conduct for mobile app transparency in information collecting.

This flexible, consensus process is also better able to ensure that policies are not technology or platform specific.  That is, at a time of increasing convergence, where “applications” are seamlessly offered across a wide range of devices, fixed laws such as this would stifle technological evolution by creating a distinct privacy regime based on a specific type of device.

SIIA is very supportive of the effort and confident that it can succeed if given time.  Consumers and businesses are in this together, dependent on each other as this new mobile ecosystem continues to evolve.  With the right consensus-driven framework, mobile app privacy can be a win-win for users and businesses.

Rather than considering rigid legislative mandates on the mobile app industry, Congress should continue to explore how to support this industry.  The House Energy and Commerce Committee did just that earlier this year by holding a hearing focused on this innovative industry and how it can spur economic and job growth.

Recommendations are good.  Consumer self-help is good.  But the world is looking to us to show that self-regulation can work as a viable alternative to government mandates.  To allow the multistakeholder efforts on mobile transparency to falter now would confirm their belief that only the government can set the rules of the road in this area.  It is time for the industry to step up and make progress on setting its own rules of the road. If we don’t we have only ourselves to blame if state, national or international governments feel compelled to step in to protect the public.

David LeDuc is Senior Director, Public Policy at SIIA. He focuses on e-commerce, privacy, cyber security, cloud computing, open standards, e-government and information policy.

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