Thursday 29 September 2011

Privacy on mobile devices: Not bad

Thud. Landing in my in-box yesterday was a hefty email from the GSM Association, giving me details of the views of over 4,000 mobile phone users in Singapore, Spain and the UK, on some privacy issues, particularly relating to the use of the mobile Internet and mobile applications. The research follows the January publication of the GSMA’s Mobile Privacy Principles, which described the way in which mobile consumers’ privacy should be respected and protected.

I’ll quote quite extensively from the study, as it’s quite interesting.

This study was designed to help mobile operators understand to what degree privacy interests were of concern to mobile users, as well as how they influence attitudes towards, and usage of, mobile Internet services and applications.

Overall, it showed that while privacy concerns can discourage consumer engagement with mobile Internet services, mobile applications and advertising, users greatly value the services and the opportunities they bring.

And the chief learning is that it’s necessary to strengthen consumer confidence and trust by giving users meaningful transparency, choice and control over how their personal information is used. So, there’s still a way to go, but consumers generally like what they’re getting.

Key Research Findings

About half of users were concerned about sharing their personal information while using the mobile Internet or mobile applications. Around 81 per cent of mobile users surveyed felt that safeguarding their personal information was very important and 76 per cent said they were very selective about whom they gave their information to. Key areas of user concern, which focused on trust and confidence, were highlighted as behavioural advertising, location-based services, mobile applications and third-party sharing. Other study findings include:

• 89 per cent of users think that it is important to know when personal information is being shared by an application and to be able to turn this off or on;
• 89 per cent think it important to have the option of giving permission for personal information to be used by third parties and 78 per cent are concerned with third parties having access to the location of their mobile without permission;
• 74 per cent want to be told if their personal information is collected to target them with offers or promotions; and
• 92 per cent of respondents have concerns when applications collect personal information without their consent and 79 per cent would like to know when and what type of personal information is being collected.

Practical services such as maps and weather are the most frequently used location-based services and are highly valued by over 70 per cent of respondents. 79 per cent think it is important to have the choice whether to receive location-based advertising with 86 per cent believing it important to be able to turn LBS promotions or advertising on or off.

Over 60 per cent of respondents were familiar with behavioural advertising, with 35 per cent finding it valuable, but 84 per cent thought it important to be able to have the choice whether to receive behavioural advertising that is based on browsing history and 81 per cent remained concerned about receiving behavioural advertising without their consent.

So, it’s somewhat of a thumbs up, and not a “doom and gloom” message for those who fear that a bit more transparency and control will result in customers switching off the behavioural advertising and other tracking technology in droves. The message is pretty clear – if consumers understand what it is that they are trading some of their privacy away for, they are going to be happy with the deal if, in return, they get stuff which is valuable to them.

The trick, therefore, is for the providers of this stuff to make their offerings sufficiently compelling, so that they’re not characterised as money- or privacy-grabbing bodies who simply want to take, rather than give back.

Simple, huh?