Consumers want more control over personal info shared via mobile apps
By Chantal Tode
March 15, 2013
With only 37 percent of consumers comfortable sharing personal information with an application, some may be avoiding apps while others are likely engaging not knowing that an app is sharing information without their permission, according to a new report from MEF.
While smartphone users are embracing mobile applications because they offer fun and functionality, several recent high-profile examples of apps mishandling users' personal data threaten to have a negative impact on the market. The report points to the need for app providers to be upfront about how personal information is used so users can make informed decisions about whether to download an app.
“The consumer has woken up,” said Andrew Bud, global chair at MEF. “For some time, user data has been fueling the app economy.
“Freemium content or ad-funded services are based on exchanging service value for user information, which delivers real benefits to both consumers and businesses,” he said. “How often have consumers been aware of this exchange, and cared about the information they were handing over for use and sharing?
“Seventy percent of consumers say that it’s important to them to know exactly what data an app is collecting and what data is being shared, nearly half say it’s very important. This says very clearly that consumers now understand the impact of apps on their privacy and that they want to have some control.”
The consumer data collected via mobile can be used to the benefit of users by enabling the creation of hyper-tailored ads.
However, this data can also be exploited, making it imperative for the mobile industry to consider consumers' attitudes toward privacy.
Building trust with users can be an important and cost-effective way to grow a sustainable business in the increasingly competitive app space.
The report is based on a survey of 9,500 consumers across 10 countries.
Key findings include that only 37 percent of consumers are comfortable sharing personal information with an app, 33 percent are not at all comfortable sharing their personal information, 52 percent are not comfortable storing their billing information within an app and 35 percent are not comfortable sharing their location information. This suggests that consumers are ignoring apps until they feel they can trust them to share their personal information or they are engaging with apps now knowing that they app is sharing information without their permission.
The results show that most mobile users trust app providers to protect their personal information, with only 18 percent of users globally saying they do not feel confident that their personal information is being protected.
With 33 percent of users globally saying they feel like they have complete control in how their personal information is being used for advertising purposes, the report suggests there is a gap between the control users feel they have over how their personal information is used and the reality that it is unlikely consumer are able to control the way companies use their personal information or understand how to exercise control. This suggests trust may be eroded once users recognize their lack of control.
Other findings include that 70 percent need to know when an app is gathering their personal information, and 71 percent want to know when an app is sharing their personal information.
The consumers who feel least in control of their data are female consumers, those over 35 years old and Android owners.
Recognizing that app providers do not have the time to become privacy experts, MEF is working with its members to come up with practical guidelines and new tools through its Privacy in Mobile Apps Global Initiative.
"This global survey shows that the mobile community must not take consumer understanding for granted,” Mr. Bud said. “We have work to do to bring consumers with us on this journey into an economy of information value.
“For companies, building consumer trust is critical to grow a sustainable business in a market where thousands of apps jostle for space,” he said. “As an industry we have a limited window of opportunity to show consumers that we are capable of protecting their privacy.
“Whilst some of the principles of trust are already established at a legislative level, what’s missing is how developers and app stores introduce and build the asset of consumer trust into their day-to-day business, taking the practical steps to establish transparency in a consumer-friendly way.”
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York
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