The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is urging mobile operating system and application developers to introduce more transparency in their products.

Users have a right to know what data they collect and what they use it for, FTC officials said.

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Apps shouldn’t be able to access GPS data or other personal information such as photos or contacts without the user’s permission, it added. A year ago the Path social network created a stir by harvesting users’ address book data without their permission; the FTC just ordered Path to pay an $800,000 fine.

The commission also wants platform developers implement “Do Not Track” (DNT) features that allow users to not undergo the tracking process for marketing purposes by advertising networks or other third parties for other reasons.

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The FTC has been demanding a similar feature for desktop browsers for some time and is now threatening to implement legal requirements. The authority said although Apple’s iOS and the mobile version of the Firefox browser already offer an appropriate switch, “Do Not Track” is far from being a standard feature in mobile devices.

DNT also requires the communication partner on the other end of the connection to co-operate; users only state a preference by enabling the feature. Server operators are free to respect or dismiss this preference, and critics have therefore expressed their doubts about the usefulness of the switch.

With the guidelines it has now released, the FTC wants to emphasize it remains committed to ensuring the privacy of mobile device data. While the recommendations aren’t binding for app developers and device manufacturers, violations could result in more scrutiny by the trade commission. This could potentially lead to substantial fines such as those in the Path case.

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