04/12/2013 01:36 pm ET Updated Jun 12, 2013

Avoiding the "Big Stick" Approach: Regulators Seek to Aid Transparency for App Developers

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California's Attorney General Kamala Harris addressed mobile developers on Wednesday morning regarding mobile application privacy and her offices' commitment to consumer privacy at The Future of Privacy+Innovation: A Workshop for App Developers in San Francisco. While the Attorney General has made it clear that consumer protection and application transparency are top priorities for her office, Harris pointed out that her office seeks not to aggressively go after all application developers with a "big stick," but rather make sure that application developers are knowledgeable of what the law is and are empowered to take steps to make sure they are compliant with the law.

Harris' address follows the release of a report in January 2013, "Privacy on the Go: Recommendations for the Mobile Ecosystem", the Attorney General's attempt to educate application developers and give them guidance on embedding privacy into both the development of applications as well as the policies they need to create to accompany their applications.

Harris analogized her own knowledge of how airplanes actually "fly" to how many consumers view mobile applications. Harris shared that she may not know how the airplane actually gets her from point A to point B, but she knows when she gets on a plane that she can find the exit doors, can access a safety brochure and knows to put on her safety mask before helping the child next to her. Similarly, many people use mobile applications, and may love them, but have no clue how they actually work. Regardless of the level of technical knowledge, consumers should know the general "safety" rules when it comes to using a mobile application.

Harris left the audience with two thoughts for the application developer community: 1) Developers should give more information to consumers about how the technology works and the California Attorney General's office wants to facilitate this, and 2) Innovation does not have to stop. The issue is not necessarily that the information is being collected. The issue is that users must have information about what is being collected and be put in a position to make a meaningful choice about the tradeoff of using the application or not.

Harris' sentiments were echoed by the Federal Trade Commission's Laura Berger, who explained that while the FTC has a law enforcement mission, they are actively trying to find app developers to engage in dialogue about the issue of privacy and implementing privacy policies and safeguards.