Smartphone Owners Clear Search History, Shed Apps, To Protect Privacy

Smartphone-lock-Shutterstock-APrivacy concerns are driving most app users -- 57% -- either to remove particular apps, or to decide against installing them, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Pew Internet & American Life Center.

Fifty-four percent of users have rejected apps due to privacy concerns, while 30% have uninstalled them, Pew reports. (Some users do both, which is why the total proportion of users to eschew or delete an app totals just 57%.)

Despite the privacy concerns, apps overall are becoming more popular. Forty-three percent of wireless users now say they download apps to their devices, up from 31% last year.

Selectively deleting apps isn't the only way wireless users are trying to protect their privacy. Fifty percent of smartphone users have erased their device's search or browsing history, while 30% have turned off location tracking, Pew reports.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the survey results cast doubt on the conventional wisdom that ordinary consumers don't care about privacy.

"The Pew study suggests that people do care very much," Rotenberg says.

He adds that in many cases, users don't have enough information to decide whether apps are too intrusive. "The practical problem is that the data collection practices are just too opaque," he says. "People cannot make a meaningful evaluation, because they don't actually know what data about them is being collected -- and that's a real problem."

The Pew study, based on a telephone survey of more than 2,200 Americans, comes at a time of increasing interest in mobile privacy. The same day that Pew released its report, the Federal Trade Commission issued recommendations that developers incorporate privacy principles into mobile apps.

The agency specifically advises developers to limit the information they collect, and make the default settings "consistent with what people would expect" based on the app. "For any collection or sharing of information that’s not apparent, get users’ express agreement. That way your customers aren’t unwittingly disclosing information they didn’t mean to share," the FTC advises in its six-page guidelines titled, "Marketing Your Mobile App: Get It Right From The Start."

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