ACT Launches App Privacy Icons

The Association for Competitive Technology announced new App Privacy Icons to help developers and consumers handle privacy settings of their apps.

The Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) has introduced App Privacy Icons, the newest feature of its App Trust Project.

The new icons are part of a broad campaign to provide developers with the resources to demonstrate easy-to-understand transparency about the privacy settings and features of their apps.

In the increasingly competitive world of mobile apps, savvy consumers are making purchasing decisions that include whether and how an app collects or shares information about them. This industry-led measure—an eight-month collaborative effort by developer groups, designers, parents and policymakers—provides consumers with the information they need to make informed purchasing decisions, ACT officials said. The icons provide transparency into the data collection and sharing practices of mobile apps, so that customers can quickly assess the apps they want to buy.

In addition to continuing the development of the privacy icons, ACT will develop open-source code for developers to use in their apps and will lead a campaign to promote these tools through social media, developer events and advertising.

“Developers need a simple way to communicate to customers about data collection and sharing practices,” said ACT Executive Director Morgan Reed, in a statement. “The App Privacy Icons help convey that information in an easy-to-read display customized for the small screens of mobile devices. Ultimately, this is about communicating trust and value to customers in a manner that embraces the massive shift under way to smartphones and tablets.”

The App Privacy Icons inform users whether an app contains advertising, collects data or shares information with social networks. These icons provide consumers with a view of key privacy considerations and are designed to augment existing privacy policies rather than replacing them. The icons can be implemented in multiple places, including on app Websites, in the app itself and in the app store documentation.

For the past eight months, ACT has worked closely with a group of children’s app developers on the development of these simple, graphical representations of data collection and sharing practices. Under the leadership of Lorraine Akemann, founder of Moms With Apps, and Tore Hansen, founder of Operatio Apps, the icons generated considerable interest within the developer community and parents groups, ACT said.

"Keeping kids safe online is a team effort," Akemann said in a statement. “When app developers use clearly written privacy policies, parents have access to information about how the app works before they download it. New technology is introduced at an alarming rate, which means consumer education around digital literacy is important for successfully navigating mobile environments. Hopefully, these icons and ACT's efforts will help propel the education process.”

ACT has convened an Advisory Board with leaders from the development community, industry groups, and parent and consumer organizations to guide the continued development of the icons. The initial board members include Sara Kloek of ACT, Akemann of Moms With Apps, Jim Brock of and Hansen of Operatio Apps.

"The PrivacyChoice team was pleased to be part of a collaborative effort involving developers, designers and other industry representatives in the creation of the App Privacy Icons," said PrivacyChoice founder Jim Brock, in a statement. "The icons are a perfect complement to our free Policymaker tool for app developers that creates simple-to-read privacy policies. As part of this tool, developers are able to create customized App Privacy Icons as an added feature of the privacy policy generator. By creating App Privacy Icons with a Policymaker privacy policy, developers can help consumers identify an app's privacy policies at a glance and learn more with the tap of the screen."

“As an app developer, and a parent of four kids from ages 3 to 11, there is plenty of opportunity to see how children's privacy may be safeguarded or compromised in apps,” Operatio Apps' Hansen, a design contributor to the App Privacy Icons. “It is sometimes difficult for consumers to know at a glance what each app does. Providing consumers an up-front disclosure, using easy-to-understand icons, can help identify an app's most important privacy-related features. The App Privacy Icons provide a very effective way to educate consumers about privacy features, and are optimized for implementation throughout the app stores.”

ACT also is committed to a broad campaign to promote the icons and privacy transparency among app developers. This campaign will include working with platform providers to assist developers using the icons, collaborating with industry organizations to integrate icons into existing privacy policy tools, conducting outreach programs to encourage developer adoption, highlighting successes and best practices, and making changes and improvements when necessary.