As Apple faces a class action lawsuit where it's being accused of sharing users' personal information with advertising networks without their consent, the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) is now stepping in with plans to develop a set of mobile privacy guidelines for the industry.

The new guidelines will complement the group's existing Global Code of Conduct, and will attempt to address the growing need for marketers and consumers to have a "transparent, accepted understanding," in its words, as to how information on a mobile device is collected and what's being done with it.

MMA to Create Mobile Privacy Guidelines

Greg Stuart, Global CEO of the MMA, said the group recognizes the importance of consumer privacy. "In order for marketers and publishers to responsibly and sustainably engage consumers through and with the mobile channel, we need to continuously update how we address the collection, management and use of personal data or related consumer information," he explained earlier this month.

To create the new guidelines, the MMA is asking members of the mobile community, including carriers, marketers, agencies, media companies and media technologies, to join its Privacy Committee. The issue will also be addressed at its upcoming Consumer Best Practices Meeting, January 25-26 in Boca Raton, Florida.

Compared with the $25 billion online ad industry, the mobile marketing industry is still in its infancy. It won't reach $1 billion until 2012, reported AdWeek, citing data from eMarketer. "If we'd seen how fast mobile Internet and apps were going to grow, maybe we would have stepped in sooner," Stuart told AdWeek.

[Author's Note: if they had seen how fast it would grow? Were they not watching?]

?There's no timeline for the completion of the new policy, Stuart said. "It's more important that we get it done right. This release was a call to arms."

A Need to Address Mobile Privacy Concerns

This issue was recently in the forefront of people's minds, thanks to a Wall St. Journal series called "What They Know," that highlighted the growing lack of privacy in today's digital world. One piece in particular ("Your Apps are Watching You") dealt with mobile privacy.

The Journal found that, after an examination of 101 popular smartphone applications on iPhone and Android devices, 56 transmitted the phone's unique device ID to other companies without the user's awareness or consent. 47 also transmitted location and 5 sent age, gender and other personal details.

Counterpoint: Tracking is GOOD

The somewhat overly paranoid reporting from The WSJ was met with some backlash online, especially from the tech blogging community. In a post entitled "Hello, My Name is: 9649e796e8b23900dc9629a18f2d47306430e62f," BGR blogger Andrew Munchbach made a convincing argument that mobile tracking isn't really all that bad. (The headline referred to his UDID, the unique device identifier that's used to build an online profile of a device, and therefore, the user).

"I'm not all that concerned with third parties, even advertisers, knowing the age, gender, UDID, and/or the general (or even specific) location of my device's end-user (that's me)," Munchbach wrote. "So Rovio, the maker of Angry Birds, knows that the dude using my mobile device is, um, a dude, was stuck on level 5-13 for six straight hours, and was in Newport, RI when this all occurred. So the game looked through my address book to see if there were contacts that were also playing Angry Birds with whom I could connect. I kind of like these features," he said.

He also said that even when that data is passed to an analytics company, it's used - anonymously - to provide useful usage statistics and intelligence. "Rovio can use this information to improve its product, which would seem like a benefit to me, the player. Heck, Flurry may even go one step further and use this information in its own reporting and assessment of the mobile industry or publish a report about it...still doesn't trouble me all that much. Why should it? It's an age, gender, and ever-changing location that is linked to a number that represents a mobile device."

...But Some Want to Opt-Out & Today You Can't

While in Munchbach's case, the tracking is seen in a positive light, there are some who would prefer the option to opt-out, as you can in most of today's modern desktop-based Web browsers, through the use of built-in tools like privacy/"incognito" modes, browser add-ons and extensions and even alternative search portals that promise no tracking.

WSJ polled its readers on the matter, and a majority (67.7%), said they want apps to tell them every time they collect and send info about their mobile device. Clearly, these voters were worked about about the idea, having just read the article. Apps that constantly nagged you if and when they could share information would be worse than Windows Vista's User Account Control security feature which seemed to ask you every single time you tried to make the simplest change on your PC.

Still, the mobile world, as of yet, does not have any such opt-out options. It's all or nothing - use the app, or don't. But if you do, you're agreeing to certain conditions. The MMA's influence may help to create new scenarios here that will better serve mobile users, not just with regard to apps, but for all sorts of mobile ads, including SMS text messages, in-app banner advertising and ads on the mobile Web itself.