Mobile Privacy and the Problem with Surveys – Reality Doesn’t Match

Are you really worried about the data your apps are collecting?  Really worried?

Are you really worried about the data your apps are collecting? Really worried?

Protecting user’s mobile privacy begets user trust, and user trust begets greater engagement, which begets greater sales.  The problem comes back down to what do users really think is private and what is public.  This stuff is hard, people.  The biggest problem comes when folks try to apply their concepts of what should be private to their users.  You are not your users.  You may be a firm believer in eating your own dog food, but you are not your user.  You are too close to the problem.  User control is where you should be focused.  Let’s look at a recent study on user’s mobile privacy expectations and talk more about it.

On behalf of Truste, Harris Interactive conducted a study among 900 mobile users in the United Kingdom and published this very pretty infographic on their results.  The results are quite surprising to me, actually.  Let me be more specific about that.  What I find surprising is not that users are concerned about privacy, but that their concerns aren’t really translating into real action.  So let’s look at some of the results.

76% of users won’t download an app they don’t trust

First of all what the heck does trust really mean.  The study reports that this is up from 68% in 2012.  So, three out of four users won’t download an app they perceive as untrustworthy.  I want to go back to the question, but Truste hasn’t published the full research yet.  Are these apps from companies I do business with?  Is it apps in general?

Do you have the Facebook app on your mobile?  Last year in a poll conducted by AP-CNBC, only 13% of users completely trust Facebook with their data.  Even if you include the percentage that somewhat trust (28%), that still leaves 6 out of 10 that think Facebook deserves little or no trust.  What percentage of that group has the Facebook app on their phone.  I bet you it is more than 25%.

What about games you download?  Are users really evaluating trust when they click on that new fun zombies game to play?  I like to think I am pretty aware of privacy issues, and I don’t worry about trust or privacy.  But, I just found out that my 235 games are reporting back to GameCenter on iOS.  My first response was, wow I play a lot of games.  My second response was, wow I didn’t know I played that many games.  My current favorite is the new Plants v. Zombies 2, by the way.

So, what are we talking about with trust?  I think trust is like privacy, is like obscenity.  We will know it when we see it, and not a second earlier.  Do I trust the apps I download?  Yes.  I trust the apps I download to monetize in the most effective manner available to them.  Voila, I trust 100% of the apps I download.

Battery Life is the biggie, but Privacy is the second biggie?

Users are more concerned about privacy than brand, camera resolution, weight or screen size.  My issue with this particular data point is, so what.  You have two main choices, two less than main choices and then no choices when it comes to the phone you buy.  I am not talking about the manufacturer, I am talking about the operating system.  iOS and Android are the two big gorillas.  Windows Phone and Blackberry are less significant.  The problem is the mobile I choose is locked into the OS.  It doesn’t matter what I think about privacy.

We haven’t reached the level of overlay onto cell networks we have with the web, where the underlying OS means nothing to my interactions on the web.  There my choice of browser and operating system mean nothing as to the data I am sharing and how it is shared.  On your mobile device, the OS still matters folks.  The controls that they put in place, and the notifications that they make to you about how your data is shared is still in the control of the OS developer.  You may be concerned about privacy, but you can do so little about it in your particular purchase that it is a moo point.  It’s like a cow’s opinion.  It doesn’t matter.

9 out of 10 don’t share data?

According to the study, 9 out of 10 users will not share data that brands use to generate advertising revenue.  91% won’t share web surfing behavior and 92% won’t share location.  A whopping 98% won’t share contact information.  Finally, 1 in 4 won’t share any information.  This is where I think the survey goes really off the rails with a difference between survey response and reality.  If this is true, and I mean really true, brands are left with two possibilities.  The first, they will never get any data from users, so nothing can be ever customized.  The second is the more troubling.  If users won’t give me their data willingly, brands may look to other ways to get it, and not informing us of the collection.

Hints as to survey v. real-world reality

Almost 1 in 2 mobile users are not aware of mobile ad tracking.  If the users were so concerned, as the survey indicates, doesn’t it make sense that more would be aware of what is already being done.  Unless these are two different groups being surveyed (and they were not) I could understand this, but it was the same group, so really?

2 out of 2 think they are responsible for their privacy?

What a sad state of affairs.  While I think we all should take ultimate ownership for ourselves, I think this is a shared responsibility between the developer and the user.  If the developer takes this data point too seriously they will seek to absolve themselves fully of their need to incorporate privacy by design.

1 in 4 read the privacy policy?

Holy leavings from a bovine mammal.  Really?  I once asked 50 privacy experts who use online banking if they had read the privacy policy for their bank.  4 people raised their hands.  8% of my unscientific survey.  8% of world class privacy experts.

The three legged stool still applies, go sit on it please

Users are funny.  They say the most incredible things and sometimes the things they say do not marry up with what they do.  In the privacy realm, I think that is really the case.  Meaningful controls do not exist to put control in the hands of the user.  So, while they think they care, they do not have the ability to really implement that care in what they do.

We as developers need to bridge that gap between concern and control.  In the three legged stool of privacy control is just one leg.  Notice and value are the other two.  Notice provides a basis for meaningful control.  Value communicates to the user that they are not just a grist for the mill.

So, let’s look at the data, look at our users and do the right thing.

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