Building on her campaign to improve privacy for mobile phone and tablet users, California's top law enforcement officer on Thursday issued a list of recommended "best practices" for app developers, advertising networks and others in the mobile Internet industry.
The recommendations from Attorney General Kamala Harris are believed to be the first to come from a state-level official in this country, at a time when the industry and federal authorities are wrestling with growing concerns about the amount of personal data that is transmitted and shared when people play online games or use other services.
"Obviously there are a lot of incentives for people to collect more data," said Lee Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, citing online businesses that gather consumers' personal data and then use it to deliver highly personalized services and advertising messages. "It's hard to say exactly what impact these recommendations will have, but I think they're pretty useful."
The report also urges app builders to consider privacy issues from the start of the development process by thinking about how much data they need and how they will use it.
Harris has waged a high-profile campaign to push mobile apps into compliance with a state law that requires online businesses to develop privacy policies and display them. Last year, she sent warning letters to about 100 businesses that operate mobile apps and filed a lawsuit against one, Delta Air Lines.
But a top aide to Harris indicated that was only the first step. "Now that we've got a critical mass of privacy policies, we need to make them understandable, useful and transparent," said Travis LeBlanc, a special assistant attorney general.
The report, written with industry input, is not a legal opinion or mandate. But it goes beyond app developers to address other key industry players -- urging ad networks, for example, to display their own privacy policies.
Some practices may pose technical challenges. But one industry official, Alex Fowler at Firefox-maker Mozilla, predicted companies will at least consider Harris's suggestions. "I think it's preferable to have the attorney general being proactive in working with the industry, as opposed to going straight to some type of enforcement action."
Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022; follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey.
The Attorney General's report can be found on her office website at http://oag.ca.gov and http://oag.ca.gov/privacy.