Feb 1, 2013

Government’s New Mobile Privacy Guidelines Incorporate Jen King’s Research

A new report on mobile privacy released this morning by the Federal Trade Commission incorporates a number of recommendations from School of Information Ph.D. student Jennifer King, based on her research on privacy and human-computer interaction.

The report details ways that mobile marketplace leaders can keep consumers informed about their data and privacy practices. The FTC is charged with protecting consumer privacy and preserving transparency in the marketplace, and today’s report applies those responsibilities to the world of mobile devices.

King is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the School of Information, where she studies online privacy and how people make their privacy decisions. Her research bridges the gap between legal analysis, technical approaches, policy-based solutions, and an understanding of the social implications of the challenges of privacy and surveillance.

King was invited to address the Federal Trade Commission last May at a day-long workshop on advertising and privacy disclosures in online and mobile media. She provided the commissioners with a brief overview of the design principles that HCI researchers and practitioners are using to improve notices and disclosures on both the Internet and on mobile platforms, as well as answering questions about universal and cross-platform advertising disclosures.

Several of King’s recommendations are incorporated in today’s report:

  • The FTC recommends that platforms provide “just-in-time” disclosure of the use of sensitive information, and require affirmative consent from the user. This was a core recommendation of King’s in last May’s workshop, based on the HCI principle of selective attention. “People are goal-oriented,” explained King. “People aren’t visiting a Website or using an app in order to read a disclosure or a privacy policy. As long as these elements are disconnected from a user’s primary activity, they will generally remain unread and unnoticed.”
  • “It’s well understood that people don’t read Web pages in their entirety, and they scan them quickly,” said King. “This principle suggests that we need to aid users by designing for increased readability.” The Commission’s advice suggests a variety of ways that mobile developers and designers can improve readability and understandability of privacy information.
  • One approach suggested by the FTC is the use of icons to communicate concepts in a clear and easily digestible manner. In her recommendations to the FTC, King highlighted several successful uses of icons for privacy disclosures, including the work of I School alumnus Travis Pinnick (MIMS ’09) at TRUSTe.
  • King has performed extensive research on consumers’ understanding of the relationship between mobile and social networking platforms and their third-party apps. Her research revealed a high degree of consumer confusion about app data-sharing processes. In response to this research, today’s FTC guidelines suggest that mobile platforms or app stores should provide increased oversight of third-party apps’ privacy practices — or at least be more transparent about their app-review process, to avoid such consumer confusion.

Overall, the report cites King’s recommendations eight times.

Staff attorneys from the Federal Trade Commission will be answering questions about the report and about mobile privacy in a live Twitter chat today from 10–11 am (1–2 pm EST). Address questions to @FTC or use hashtag #FTCpriv.

Last updated:

October 4, 2016