Truste, Citing Location Privacy Worries, Expands Certification Program to the Mobile World

9/27/10Follow @wroush

San Francisco-based Truste, the former non-profit that provides privacy certification services for the websites of nearly 3,000 organizations, is expanding into the mobile arena. Starting today, builders of mobile websites and mobile applications can submit their sites and their iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Symbian, and Palm software apps for certification by Truste. If they pass, and they’re willing to pony up at least $3,000 per year, they’ll be entitled to use the familiar Truste certification seal on their sites or apps.

That could help combat consumers’ fears that purveyors of mobile apps are apt to misuse the extensive data they can gather on user behavior. “There is a lack of trust in mobile apps,” argues Chris Babel, Truste’s CEO. “Privacy issues around geolocation are causing consumers special concern. People are starting to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, this app is sitting in my pocket all the time on a device that has GPS capability, and they can locate me to within 10 feet.’ That can get scary.”

That’s why Truste is updating its privacy requirements with new standards relating to location technology, mobile marketing and analytics, and other issues pertinent to mobile usage. For example, to win the Truste seal, a Starbucks or BestBuy store-finder app for iPhones or Android phones would be required to notify users the first time the app taps a phone’s GPS chip. Mobile apps are also required to notify users every time they pass location information to a third party—a coupon distributor, for example.

Front Page of Truste AppAt the same time, Truste is overhauling the general look and feel of its policies and forms to make consumers who access the information from mobile devices feel more at home. The organization has updated its privacy seal to be more visible on mobile interfaces, and it has created short versions of the privacy policy pages explaining things like how Truste-certified sites collect and use personal data. “We’re trying to make it all mobile-friendly,” says Babel.

A few pre-release clients have already subscribed to Truste’s mobile certification program, including Apartments.com, BreastCancer.org, GoDaddy, TigerText, Thumbspeak, the Weather Channel, WebMD, WorldMate, and Yelp.

Babel argues that the $3,000 annual cost of being certified—which comes on top of any fees clients might already be paying Truste to certify their standard websites—will repay itself in the form of increased consumer confidence. Babel says that in tests on the standard Web, e-commerce companies see an uptick in sales of between 7 and 29 percent when there is a Truste seal on every page of their site, and he expects to see the same effect carry over to the mobile world. “We are charging more, but we’re saying, ‘Here’s the value we are providing,” says Babel.

Truste, which was founded in 1997 by Electronic Frontier Foundation director Lori Fena, has always charged other organizations fees for its certification services and for the use of its privacy seal. But launching new forms of certification that carry additional charges may be a higher priority for the organization today than in the past.

In July 2008, Truste became a for-profit entity and raised an undisclosed amount of venture funding from Accel Partners, which was also a major investor in … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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