Still, the emerging consensus was considered a major step forward for privacy rights advocates who say consumers have been in the dark when it comes to the widespread collection of their personal data.
"For the first time many consumers will be able to do apples-to-apples comparisons" of different mobile apps' privacy policies, said Jules Polonetsky, director of the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington-based group of Internet privacy experts.
Mobile applications like Google Maps, Angry Birds and GasBuddy have become popular, inexpensive ways to personalize smartphones or tablets and improve their functionality. Often free or a couple bucks to download, apps can turn a phone into a sophisticated roaming office or gaming console.
But like all those websites that offer medical advice or parenting tips, there's a hitch: They want information like your birthdate or ZIP code, and often your location. Developers say data collection is necessary in many cases for the software to work as promised. The personal data also can be sold to marketers, making the app a lucrative reward to its creators.
This aggressive data collection has put industry at odds with consumer advocates, including groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and regulators at the Federal Trade Commission. Last February, the FTC released a report advising companies to offer a "do not track" mechanism for smartphone users and develop icons that show how a person's data is used.
Tim Sparapani with the Application Developers Alliance, a major industry association of app developers and tech companies that supports the proposed privacy labels, said he expects some consumers will change their behavior when they see the new privacy labels, but that many won't.
"We know that consumers love their apps — the downloads per day demonstrates that," Sparapani said. What the new guidelines will do is "allow for greater transparency and comprehension among consumers of what's happening."
This month, new privacy rules by the FTC took effect for mobile apps marketed to children under age 13. Under the updated Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, companies can't collect information on kids in most cases unless a parent first gives permission, such as through an electronically scanned consent form. Parental consent is not required when a website operator collects data solely to support its internal operations, which can include advertising, site analysis and network communications.
If companies violate these rules, they could face costly penalties.
In a bid to head off similar regulation for mobile apps used by teens and adults, several dozen tech industry lobbyists and privacy rights advocates teamed up to develop the voluntary disclosure guidelines with help from the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The FTC has said it would look favorably on businesses in any enforcement action that can show it complies with a strong code of conduct, such as the one being negotiated.
John Verdi, director of privacy initiatives at NTIA, said the new labels should make for smarter consumers.
"Compliance with the code will help app developers build and maintain trust with consumers — trust that is crucial to the health of the mobile app marketplace," Verdi said.