Mobile Privacy Trust May Be Eroding

Privacy-Phone-ACompared to a year ago, mobile app store users are considerably less certain about privacy safeguards on their downloads. According to a new survey of over 500 smartphone owners by privacy services provider Truste and Harris Interactive, only 14% of respondents feel that their apps stores only make downloads available that safeguard their privacy. That level of confidence is down from 25% just a year ago. In fact. now 37% of say they don’t think these download stores vet the apps for privacy -- up from 25% last year.

The 2012 U.S. Online and Mobile Privacy Perception Report finds that 85% of smartphone users will not download an app if they don’t trust it. In order to determine their level of confidence in an app, 38% say they research it online and 34% check for a privacy policy.

Truste Board chair Fran Maier tells Mobile Marketing Daily that a year of press and legislative scrutiny on privacy protection in Apple and Google/Android’s respective apps stores has taken its toll on confidence. “We believe press has driven concern on overall smartphone privacy and security, an overall increase in Android usage which generally is a more open environment than Apple IOS and increasing consumer concern regarding privacy overall,” she says.

Across platforms, consumers were 60% more concerned about these issues than last year. But since last year’s report, consumers were surprised to discover that some apps pulled data from their social media contact lists in order to expand their own user base. And many apps are unclear about how and what user data they collect and track.

Despite an overall wariness about behavioral targeting via mobile apps (only 1% say they “like it”), there is now widespread awareness of the practice. Truste and Harris find that 62% of smartphone owners are aware that publishers track mobile actions in order to target ads. There is a more nuanced approach to the perceived exchange of value between apps and users, however. Almost half (49%) of respondents said they would be willing to share their gender with an app developer, while 36% are willing to share age and 35% will share email.

Eagerness to exchange data for service on mobile devices plummets as the detail becomes more personal, however. While a quarter in the survey would share their full name, only 12% said they would be willing to share date of birth. Location -- a particularly important special data point for mobile advertisers -- triggered particularly sensitive responses, with only 9% willing to give up their current “precise” location for an app.

In fact, sensitivity over location-based targeting was almost as high as sharing of phone number with a publisher, which only 8% said they would be willing to do. When it comes to on-device contact lists, which was a source of controversy in the last year as some apps were found to scrape phone contacts, only 1% said they wanted to share that information with an app.

Maier says that legislation and regulation may force app makers to be more forthright about their data collection practices. “Right now you can't easily validate whether or not an app even has a privacy policy, includes good security, or has any certification or verification,” she says. “We believe that regulatory or legislative action may well push app developers and stores to validate app privacy and security. And once they start down that path they'll want to improve consumer trust by indicating through search or other means that the apps are trustworthy.”

Concerns about mobile privacy seem to be rising within a context of increased awareness of the issue across digital platforms, the study finds. This year, 40% are saying that a targeted ad has made them feel uncomfortable. Half now say they will opt out of behavioral tracking when the option is available -- almost double the findings from last year. The Truste study indicates that 94% now say that online privacy is an important issue, and a sharply increasing number of consumers now trust themselves most when it comes to policing trust among online entities. More than three-quarters of users say they don’t allow companies to share information with third parties, 35% claim to have stopped interacting with a company because of privacy concerns, and 90% use various kinds of privacy controls and cookie cleaning on their browsers.  

Tags: apps, mobile, privacy
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