Cover Your Privates: What App Designers Need to Know About New Mobile Privacy Laws
If you don’t believe Edward Snowden’s actions have cast a shadow over the practice of design, you’re mistaken. For designers and programmers developing apps and other mobile media, the privacy issues he’s raised should be a top concern, particularly when it comes to how we gather user information.
Data is in demand, especially your data; the high value put on collecting it is what drives the industry. And lawmakers and regulators are taking notice. App developers who fail to disclose material information or misstate how data is used or collected risk government investigation, enforcement actions by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or even private lawsuits.
The and the Attorney General of California recently published some “best practice” and other state lawmakers and federal agencies are sure to follow. Entrepreneurs and designers who ignore these requirements risk hefty fines as well as losing the good will of their client’s user base
If you’re just starting to develop your design, here are four basics steps to consider:
1. Create a decision-making path for building privacy into the app you’re designing.
Consider the kind of data you’ll need to gather, keeping in mind that you should only collect the most basic information necessary for the app to function as designed. Will you need to ask for non-essential or sensitive data, like names, geo-location, financial or medical information, passwords, contacts, photos, videos or information about the user’s family, including children? If so, decide on and document your policies and the data use, sharing, retention and security practices.
2. Give the user control over his/her privacy.
3. Make the privacy notice easy to find.
The generally short attention spans of mobile users and the limited interface size of mobile devices indicate that privacy notices are likely to be sidelined. Regulators and lawmakers are especially concerned with the “Where’s Waldo” aspect of locating privacy controls and are now scrutinizing the design of privacy notification icons. Remember, clarity is king.
4. Treat children differently.
If there’s any chance that information concerning minors will be collected, you’d better brush up on theChildren’s’ Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The FTC recently issued this warning and the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT)anindustry groupalso released a suggested set of age-aware privacy icons. While not mandatory, the suggested icons identify the well-designed icons should communicate.
How are designers responding to these changes? Two different dashboard approaches have emerged and, unsurprisingly, they tend to be associated with the most successful mobile operating systems, iOS and Android.
Apple has placed a privacy settings tab that contains entries corresponding to important types of data such as geolocation, contacts, calendar and photos.
In contrast, the Android dashboard is a little more convoluted, but it stil provides the essential tools.
Icons are key here for helping users navigate their privacy settings. Standards are only just emerging and are likely to evolve over the next few years (though for now they’re noticeably similar to nutrition labels). For designers, the lack of a uniform set of icon standards is one of the biggest challenges. Still, graphic standards within specific types of apps and across different operating systems do exist. And until we have a master list to work from, remember that clarity is just as (if not more than) important as aesthetics.