Commentary

Privacy Second Only To Battery Life Among Mobile Concerns

They seem to be odd bedfellows, but concerns about device battery life are foremost among 46% of mobile users Truste polled in its annual Consumer Data Privacy Study, followed most closely by Privacy (22%). In fact, both device longevity and privacy easily trumped screen size (9%), a phone brand (9%), weight (4%) and camera (2%). The study was released this morning, and demonstrates how concerns about personal data security and privacy are amplified once those perennial issues move to the more intimate platform of mobile phones.

And we have to presume they are impacting or limiting behaviors. Truste found that when involved in specific transactional activities such as banking, 63% of us are frequently or always concerned about privacy, and 60% during shopping. While it seems to me that we are not in quite the same place with mobile in 2013 that we may have been online in 2000, the trust and confidence in Web transactions built in the last decade have not fully ported to devices even as many of our activities have.

Some of this no doubt is psychological -- the uncertainties attached to a new platform and the feel of sending data across airwaves in public. And some of it is just impressionistic. We know intuitively that our mobile actions are ties to location and (theoretically) very specific personal accounts in ways we never considered on the desktop.

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The impact of these concerns can be enormous for the actual effectiveness of the mobile apps that consumers use. For instance, when it comes to giving permissions for some of the key services and conveniences associated with mobile apps, consumers claim incredible levels of reticence. The study finds that 78% of users will not download apps they don’t trust. But more to the point among even the apps they trust enough to download, 89% say they won’t share location information with the app maker, 88% say they won’t share Web surfing behavior and 99% won’t share contacts.

Of course, in reality many more people are actually sharing this information in the apps they use than say so here, I imagine. Tapping the permission pop-ups in the affirmative has become a reflex for most of us, even if there is that nano-second lag when we consider whether sharing location or allowing alerts, etc. is necessary or delivering value to us. I doubt that many people really peruse the data-sharing notes from Facebook when we use Facebook Connect to log into a new app. Most of us are doing it to avoid having to tap in email address and create yet another password.

My guess is there a tremendous amount of leakage even in consumers’ own best intentions when it comes to their privacy. And I suspect that when asked, we all tend to inflate our concerns over privacy. The Truste survey finds that 40% of us check for an app privacy policy, 35% say they read it and 29% check for a third-party seal assuring privacy and security.

Really? This is one area where I would like to see some harder usage data myself. If 40% of people really are checking for a privacy policy on the billions of apps we download, then publishers have a golden and missed opportunity to bond with their users on a very important issue. Regardless of the actual rate of checking privacy policies, the issue of personal data is one that publishers, developers, brands should be running toward -- not from. I believe users are looking for havens of trust in a world where awareness of tracking is heightened.

Truste also finds that only 31% of mobile users are unaware that ad tracking is occurring on these platforms, and 69% say they don’t like it. But the rub is that people are increasingly willing to exchange pieces of their information for free access to content and service. Compared to last year, when only 31% said they were willing to exchange data for free services, 38% said so this year. Users are waiting for an honest conversation about exchange of value, but few media and marketing companies seem eager to engage. 

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