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article imageWho cares about private and secure smart or cellphone activity? Special

By Lesley Lanir     Sep 16, 2012 in Technology
Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has released a research report on mobile privacy. In particular, this report includes Pew’s first-ever investigation into how cell owners deal with privacy concerns in the context of mobile apps
Pew researchers, Jan Lauren Boyles, Aaron Smith and Mary Madden found that a notable number of apps users avoid or uninstall apps due to concerns about how they handle or share their personal information.
The report Privacy and Data Management on Mobile Devices shows that more than half of mobile application users have uninstalled or avoided certain apps due to concerns about the way personal information is shared or collected by the app.
Of the 88% of U.S. adults own cell phones according to the results, 43% say they download cell phone applications or “apps” to their phones. Among app users, the survey found:
• 54% have decided to not install a cell phone app when they discovered how much personal information they would need to share in order to use it.
• 30% have uninstalled an app that was already on their cell phone because they learned it was collecting personal information that they didn’t wish to share.
Taken together, 57% of all app users have either uninstalled an app over concerns about having to share their personal information, or declined to install an app in the first place for similar reasons.
Pew Internet
I contacted Mary Madden, Senior Research Specialist and lead author of this research.
Were you aware of the amount of personal information you have to divulge and allow entry to before you did this research?
The Wall Street Journal did an extensive review a few years ago of the data that many popular apps collect, and that series has prompted a lot of discussion in the research community. Our survey didn’t probe for the specific apps that people had uninstalled or avoided. However, application reviews and user comments offer a very rich repository of user complaints about perceived privacy violations. This is a rapidly changing space, and app developers are now under more scrutiny from government agencies and privacy advocates to provide better disclosures.
Were you surprised at the amount of people that do not upload apps or have stopped using them due to the amount of information they have to give to third party users?
Pew Research - Mary Madden
When you view this data in the context of conversations that suggest the public doesn’t care about privacy, these findings run counter to that thread of discussion. So in that sense, it’s surprising to see that the way personal information is shared or collected by an app can make or break a user’s decision to download or otherwise engage with that application. This data and other research being done in the human-computer-interaction field suggest that privacy concerns can have an important influence on user behavior.
Pew also asked about several other aspects of mobile information management, including:
• How often cell owners back up the data and other personal information on their phones
• How many cell owners clear their search/browsing histories, or turn off their phone’s location tracking feature
• How many cell owners have had their phone get lost or stolen, or accessed by someone else in a way that made them feel their privacy was violated
Pew Internet
Pew Internet
Regarding the following:
• 41% of cell owners back up the photos, contacts, and other files on their phone so they have a copy in case their phone is ever broken or lost
• 32% of cell owners have cleared the browsing history or search history on their phone
• 19% of cell owners have turned off the location tracking feature on their cell phone because they were concerned that other individuals or companies could access that information
Would you consider these figures low?
These behaviors are more closely associated with smartphone ownership, so when you look at that subgroup, the figures are much higher. For instance, smartphone owners – who have more to lose – are more likely to back up their phone: 59% do so at least once in a while. In addition, half of smartphone owners have cleared their browsing/search history and nearly one in three have turned off location tracking.
Overall from the research, do you feel that people are aware of how much information they are allowing access to without their knowledge - and that people are downloading - clicking ‘yes’ to privacy policy etc. without really understanding what that means?
It was outside the scope of this study to assess people’s knowledge of privacy policies or other data collection practices. There are other well-known articles that suggest most people do not read or understand privacy policies and that the time required for the average person to actually read through every policy they agree to would amount to the same amount of time they spend using the Web. See, for instance: The Cost of Reading Privacy Policies by Aleecia M. McDonald and Lorrie Faith Cranor.
The mobile space is especially challenging in terms of notifying consumers because the space constraints on a small screen further complicate the challenge of conveying complex privacy disclosures. And different platforms have different standards for communicating how information will be shared with third parties. The FTC has convened several events around this issue and just last week released a guide for developers that seeks to help them comply with truth-in-advertising standards and basic privacy principles: Marketing Your Mobile App: Get It Right from the Start by the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Pew Internet
More about Smartphones, Cellphones, Pew research center, Mobile apps, phone security
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