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Smartphones Need “Do Not Track Me” Function, Consumer Watchdog Says

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Mon, Dec 20, 2010 at 12:21 pm

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Smartphones Need “Do Not Track Me” Function, Consumer Watchdog Says

Santa Monica, CA — The Do Not Track Me function proposed in the Federal Trade Commission’s recently released online privacy report must be extended to include smartphones, Consumer Watchdog said today in the wake of a Wall Street Journal article showing how applications for the iPhone and Android phones widely share personal data without the users’ knowledge or consent.

The Journal’s investigation, which appeared in Saturday’s edition, found an “intrusive effort by online-tracking companies to gather personal data about people in order to flesh out detailed dossiers on them.”

“Most consumers don’t realize it, but the smartphone in the pocket has become a spy for advertising companies,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Advocate with the nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group, Consumer Watchdog.

Two of the biggest mobile advertising networks are Google’s AdMob and Apple’s iAd. Many of the “apps” available for smartphones don’t even offer the most basic type of consumer protection, a written privacy policy.

“While most privacy policies are difficult  to understand on the wired Internet, the companies are at least paying lip service to the concept of notifying consumers about how their data is used as they surf the Web,” said Simpson. “The mobile world is truly the wild frontier; companies don’t even bother to pretend. Consumers have no protection at all.”

At a Congressional hearing on the possibility of Do Not Track Me legislation earlier this month, David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said a Do Not Track Me function for consumers to use while surfing the Web from their computers is both feasible and enforceable.  Microsoft recently announced it would offer a a Do Not Track feature in the next release of its Internet browser, Internet Explorer 9. Several members of Congress, both in the house and the Senate are considering introducing in Do Not Track Me Legislation.

Consumer Watchdog has been working to protect consumers’ online privacy rights and educate them about the issues through its Inside Google Project. The goal has been to convince Google of the social and economic importance of giving consumers control over their online lives. By persuading Google, the Internet’s leading company, to adopt adequate guarantees, its policies could become the gold standard for privacy for the industry, potentially improving the performance of the entire online sector.

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Consumer Watchdog, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, DC and Santa Monica, CA.  Consumer Watchdog’s website is www.ConsumerWatchdog.org. Visit our new Google Privacy and Accountability Project website: http://InsideGoogle.com

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 361 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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