8/3/08

A Call For A Public Mobile Privacy Policy

The W3C just recently released "new standards that will make it easier for people to browse the Web on mobile devices". This is a great start, but we need to make a new set of standards for the mobile industry that focus on another aspect that will affect this industry. What is still needed is a set of publicly available privacy policies.

Think of it. Many of the mobile platforms enable applications to take advantage of location information. Even websites will soon be able to leverage the device's GPS and other forms of location data. Without a set of publicly available privacy policies, it will be near impossible for users to know how each site will use this information. Sure each site could cover this in their own privacy policy, but this would require each user to read each privacy policy and decipher the lawyer talk written into these policies.

If the mobile industry would instead adopt a set of privacy policies that websites and applications could use as their own, then over time users would become familiar with each of these policies by name. Instantly people would know how their information would be used for that site.

For example, the open source and free software providers utilize well know licenses that let users know how free software can be used just by knowing what license it is being distributed under. For instance, if software is available under the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL or simply GPL) then users know that the software, and or the source code, can be used as long as the resulting product is also released under the GPL. If software is available under the Apache License then the resulting product needs only provide a notice that that Apache licensed code has been used in the product. No other restrictions apply. I have read neither licenses, but I understand the meaning behind each one of them.

Public mobile privacy policies need to be created so that users can instantly know if their location information will be shared with businesses or other users, or if the mobile device owners’ phone number will be shared. Until these issues are clarified, large portions of the population could steer clear of the mobile web and never be able to take advantage of the great innovations that this space is about to bring.