What We Learned at Social Media Week @ MoDevDC – Privacy, Privacy, Privacy

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February 18th-22nd was Social Media Week in Washington DC, “a week-long festival featuring independently curated speakers, panels, workshops, events, and parties all across the district celebrating tech and social media in the Nation’s Capital.” MoDevDC participated by hosting a session on App discovery & more with social integrations featuring speakers from NPR, Washington Post Labs, and Ryo Games to discuss their integration with social media. We learned that most visitors to NPR’s web presence do not enter through the front door (homepage), but instead to specific posts from links usually from Facebook, Twitter, and the “Black Hole” of IM and Email. We also heard from Camellia George on how the Wapo Labs Social Reader matches a user’s Facebook “Likes” with pertinent news articles, and how Todd Walderman, of Ryo Games, is attempting to integrate social media plugins for interactive books.

These were all interesting and valuable discussions, but the most important of the evening was delivered by Morgan Reed from The Association for Competitive Technologies and ACT 4 Apps. The subject of Mr. Reed’s presentation was privacy and how important it is for software companies building mobile applications to formulate a privacy policy. In fact, the Obama Administration will soon mandate that all mobile applications contain a privacy notice and may require app stores to verify that this requirement has been satisfied before allowing an application to be uploaded. Mr. Reed is participating in a lawyer-centric working group drafting these requirements, where privacy advocates “want consumers to be afraid about their privacy and will change behavior”. This is resulting in a heavy-handed, “legaleeze” outcome that may require a privacy notice to be displayed as a splash screen before the application can be started. On the other hand, Reed is advocating the use of App Privacy Icons through an App Privacy Dashboard that are available in an application’s settings. This is an interface where a user can easily toggle privacy settings. And a privacy notice mandate can be satisfied with a link to a privacy page.

However, this link will not be satisfactory to officials in the State of California, where the Attorney General is advocating an aggressive position on privacy. Mr. Reed informed us that for mobile applications downloaded by residents of that state, a formal policy notice must be embedded into the application; a link is not sufficient. Just ask Delta Airlines, as “California’s attorney general has sued Delta Air Lines for failing to include a privacy policy within the company’s mobile application, an alleged violation of the state’s Online Privacy Protection Act”. Reed’s warning is, “formulate a privacy policy NOW.” But for small companies, how do you draft a policy without hiring expensive attorneys? Mr. Reed suggested such companies visit ACT 4 Apps or Privacy Choice, where templates are available. Welcome to the new world of mobile application development.

Segue’s Mobile Application privacy policy