The Association for Competitive Technology (“ACT”), an international trade organization that represents more than 5,000 small and mid-size app developers and information technology firms, recently released free app privacy icons (“App Privacy Icons”) that help developers comply with the FTC’s recommendations.

The new App Privacy Icons are a useful, inexpensive tool that developers can use to clearly explain to users how their information is collected, used and disclosed on a small screen.  However, the APP Privacy Icons should be used in connection with, rather than as a replacement for, traditional privacy notices which are still required to fully comply with the law.

FTC’s Focus on Privacy Issues for Apps

In March 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) stated in its final privacy report that it is going to focus legal enforcement efforts on privacy and data security law compliance in the mobile space.[1]  As a part of this enforcement initiative, the FTC recently published additional guidelines called “Marketing Your Mobile App:  Get it Right From the Start” which recommends that app developers, among other things:  (1) disclose key information clearly and conspicuously; (2) build privacy considerations into the app from the start; (3) be transparent about their privacy practices; and (4) offer consumers privacy settings that are easy to find and use and that enable consumers to control how their information is collected, used and disclosed.[2]

How the App Privacy Icons Help App Developers Comply with FTC Guidelines

The App Privacy Icons were designed to provide app developers with a cost-effective way to meet the FTC’s recommended guidelines by providing consumers with easily digestible information about:  (1) what features each app includes (such as advertisements, social media integration, location tracking and links to third party websites); and (2) how they can use the app’s privacy settings to control how their information is collected, used and disclosed via the app.

App developers may implement the App Privacy Icons in multiple places, including on app websites, in an app itself and in app store documentation.  The following is an example of how the icons look.[3]

These particular icons would be used for a website that is appropriate for children ages 3 and older and has links to third party websites but no ads, links to social networks, geo-location tracking ability or shopping cart service.

App Privacy Icons a Helpful Supplement to Traditional Privacy Notices

The App Privacy Icons are extremely useful for conveying high-level information in an easy-to-read format for the small screens on mobile devices.  They therefore address a number of the FTC’s recommendations such as disclosing key information clearly and conspicuously.  However, App Privacy Icons do not likely convey all the information that app owners are required to convey to users under the law.

For example, the California On-Line Privacy Protection Act, which applies to all apps that collect personally-identifying information from California residents, specifies app owners’ privacy policies must post privacy notices that:  (1) identify categories of personally identifiable information that they collect about users; (2) identify categories of third party persons or entities to whom they disclose users’ information; (3) describe the process by which consumers can review/request changes to their information (if such process exists); (4) describe the process by which the policy may be modified; and (5) provide an effective date.

The icons provided in the example above gives users some information about the second element of the five-part test – identifying categories of third party persons to whom users’ information is disclosed.   But, it does not address the first, third, fourth or fifth elements of the five-prong test.

To fully comply with the law, most app owners should use the App Privacy Icons in connection with traditional privacy notices that comply with applicable laws.

If you have any questions about whether your app complies with applicable privacy laws and FTC recommendations, please contact Helen Christakos at (650) 696-2545 or at

[3] This image was obtained from the ACT site at:  App developers can find the App Privacy Icons and instructions on how to incorporate them into apps on this site as well.