Mobile privacy is a huge concern for over half of smartphone users, according to a study done by the Pew Research Center‘s Internet and American Life Project. What is striking about the study isn’t that people are concerned for their mobile privacy, but how they determine threats and how Google and Facebook seem to get a pass.
How are people perceiving threats to their mobile privacy?
Pew asked seven very pointed questions in this survey. Three points seem to imply that people are self-assessing threats.
Have you ever…uninstalled an app on your cell phone because you found out it was collecting personal information that you didn’t want to share? (54% answered yes)
Have you ever…cleared the browsing history or search history on your cell phone? (50% said yes)
Have you ever…uninstalled an app on your cell phone because you found out it was collecting personal information that you didn’t want to share? (30% answered yes)
What these three answers seem to indicate are that privacy concerns are a barrier to entry for apps, but once a part of a user’s complement, a user is much more likely to assume them to be safe.
Clueful is a great tool, but does it give Facebook and Google a pass?
I wrote early this week about Clueful, a web based app for iOS (it was approved for iOS but then inexplicably removed from the App Store). It details all of privacy issues with permissions you give to apps. Its highest warning appears to be for apps that calls for the Unique Device Identifier (UDID), and apps known to track everything you do (specifically Facebook and Google) appear much more inert than they actually are. Clueful describes their privacy settings like this:
This app uses encryption to store some or all of its data securely.
Sounds pretty innocuous until you realize that these apps are tracking everything you do on their app (and Facebook is tracking your action on other apps as well). I suspect this mirrors public perception of these apps as a known commodity. That doesn’t make them any less threatening to a user’s privacy.
Vigilance is good, but is mobile privacy a reasonable expectation?
What this study seems to show is that we are concerned about mobile privacy, but because this fear is self-policed we associate risk with the unfamiliar. The irony is that the most familiar apps are a larger long-term privacy threat.
In any case. this study probably indicates is that there is a future market for mobile privacy protection.