TRUSTe Launches Wireless Privacy Guidelines

In a move with implications for wireless advertising, Internet privacy seal program TRUSTe has launched guidelines to protect the privacy of mobile users and has set up an advisory committee to help promote them.

The group’s Wireless Privacy Principles and Implementation Guidelines offer vendors serving the mobile market a group of standards designed to protect consumers’ privacy and personal information during a period of stepped up activity in the space.

The guidelines’ main provisions call for mobile service providers to offer a privacy statement prior to or during the collection of personally identifiable information; to abstain from sharing consumers’ personal information with a third party without prior consent; and to deliver location-based services only after an opt-in.

The disclosure of privacy practices and the provision of an opt-out mechanism is an especially big challenge on wireless devices, where communications are often limited to the 160 characters of SMS messages. To address this, TRUSTe says this first version of the guidelines assumes consumers have access to the Internet via a PC. This would allow people to receive the full privacy statement, handle preference setting, and gain access to personally identifiable information.

“If a transaction is conducted on a wireless device,” the guidelines continue, “the wireless service provider should do at least one of the following: 1. Deliver the notice of the statement; or 2. deliver the full privacy statement, as soon as practical, in an appropriate medium, for example through postal mail or email.”

“We hope that companies will adopt and adhere to these principles and we will be watching closely to determine their effectiveness for consumers,” said Paula Bruening, staff counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, who sat on the TRUSTe Wireless Advisory Committee.

TRUSTe formed the committee to promote its standards, as well as to “increase consumer use of advanced wireless features and applications.” The committee will work with companies that provide wireless data and Web services and ensure specific standards are met.

AT&T Wireless and Microsoft were designated as leading partners on the committee. They are joined by HP, PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Mobile Marketing Association, the Wireless Location Industry Association, and consumer advocacy groups the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

“The roster of members in the Wireless Advisory Committee demonstrates the sense of urgency felt by wireless data and content providers as they attempt to tackle the privacy issue,” said Fran Maier, executive director and president of TRUSTe.

Concerns over privacy invasion have grown along with the market for wireless content and applications. Companies providing location-based advertising, for example, may raise the ire of privacy advocates if they attempt to locate and market to consumers before getting consent. The TRUSTe guidelines are intended, at least in part, to head off that possibility and others like it.

“This is only the first, but most challenging phase, in launching a privacy program for the wireless medium to build trust with mobile users,” Maier added.

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