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Apps could begin notifying users what personal data they collect

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Some mobile apps may begin to display notices on startup that indicate what kind of personal data it collects from users, reports The New York Times.

Groups of developers and consumer advocates will soon begin testing a new "voluntary code of conduct" created by the Application Developers Alliance — an organization that represents more than 20,000 individual app developers and 100 companies — in collaboration with advocacy groups including the World Privacy Forum, a nonprofit research and consumer education organization, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Apps utilizing the program will notify users what personal data is collected and shared with advertising companies. User data that will be featured in the program's alerts includes biometrics (fingerprints or facial recognition), web browsing history, phone and text logs, contact lists, financial and credit data, medical details and any stored video or photos. The notifications will also list all types of companies that could possibly be able to view the data, including ad networks, mobile carriers, consumer data resellers, analytics companies, social networks, government programs and other apps.

The goal of the program is to present a way for users to compare apps and decide which app they want to use based on what information of theirs is being shared. Companies that violate the code of conduct will have action taken against them by the Federal Trade Commission.

"It's a victory for common sense," Application Developers Alliance vice president for law, policy and government relations Tim Sparapani told the New York Times.

The program is the result of a year-long discussion by the the United States Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration division, a move towards increasing the transparency of mobile apps for consumer benefit. It is part of a larger, over-arching plan put forth by the Obama administration to protect consumer privacy and allow them to control what personal data companies can collect.

Participating parties voted on Thursday to set the program in motion and approved a draft of the code that will add the data collection notifications to apps.

A number of major developers, including Apple and Google, have not indicated whether or not they will join the program.