Lookout hopes to allow more users to understand the privacy and security practices of mobile apps and how each app collects and shares their information. With vast amounts of information being collected and used by app developers, users need to be able to exercise some control their devices and understand what’s being done with their data. Lookout’s toolkit will hopefully help do just that.
Privacy policies and terms of service provisions are often lengthy documents, drafted by lawyers and filled with clauses and statements that most users don’t read or fully understand. Because privacy policies and terms of service provisions are filled with legal jargon that companies may not want to explain to users, consumers often have to dig and parse out how exactly a service functions, what rights the provider is reserving, and what practices are permissible. For mobile devices, which can collect a great deal of sensitive data such as location, address books, and photos and videos, it’s especially important that consumers know what a specific app does, how, and why.
Because Lookout has released the code as open source, we hope that other app developers will incorporate the toolkit into their own products. The NTIA process on mobile app transparency was intended to improve business practices in the mobile space and increase consumer understanding, and the Lookout toolkit is a promising step in that direction. By incorporating the toolkit and other privacy and security sensitive measures into their products from the early stages of development, app developers can avoid issues down the line that could affect their user base or bring government enforcement actions. Considering consumer privacy issues from the start – and determining how best to communicate those practices to users – is something all developers should do.