American Society of Magazine Editors

Federal Trade Commission Issues Two Consumer Protection Reports Focused on Disclosures in the Digital Space

May 3, 2013

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) continues to be active on consumer protection matters in 2013, issuing two reports early in the year focused on providing consumers with privacy and other disclosures in the digital space.  Both reports Mobile Privacy Disclosures and .COM Disclosures  deal with the FTC’s current interest and concerns regarding mobile devices and social media.
In response to growing concerns over consumer privacy in the mobile marketplace, in February the FTC released a staff report recommending various steps mobile marketplace participants, including application developers and mobile platforms, can take to better inform consumers about their data collection practices.  The overarching goal of the recommendations contained in the Mobile Privacy Disclosures: Building Trust through Transparency is for mobile businesses to provide easy-to-understand disclosures to consumers about how their information is being collected and used, and to make sure that information is provided in a timely manner.  Though the guidance is non-binding, among the notable specifics was a suggestion that smartphone users should be offered a “Do Not Track” option, and that mobile platforms should develop icons that provide users with information about data practices.  
Just a month later, the FTC released an updated version of its .COM Disclosures guidance.  The original guidance document, issued in 2000, focused largely on traditional websites and blogs. After a two-year period of collecting input through workshops and comments, the updated guidance addresses the use of disclosures in social media and on mobile devices.
While the basic rules about disclosures have not changed, and the guidance continues to emphasize the importance of clear and conspicuous disclosures, the new guidance has several broad themes.  These include the proximity and placement of disclosures, the importance of providing easily understood hyperlinks, and the need to consider how disclosures appear on different media platforms.