Privacy matters more when you’re mobile
Privacy concerns are nothing new if you use the Web to tweet or facebook. But with Apple’s mobile platform joining the fray and speculation that Google’s might be next, should you be worried about how your personal information is being used on that 3G-enabled iPad or Android-powered smartphone you picked up over the holiday season?
Apple shareholders don’t seem to think so. Shares in the iPhone maker closed up on Tuesday and were unchanged in midday trading on Wednesday.
And with revenue from mobile apps sales forecasted to see 60 percent compound growth to 2014 and an expected increase in the number of apps downloaded worldwide to reach 76.9 billion in 2014 from 10.9 billion in 2010, there’s good reason for wider investor optimism.
Besides, privacy complaints have not slowed down the $40 billion juggernaut that is Facebook. So why should Apple or Google be any different?
“If this were a major issue, all Web browsers would have to shut down and there would not be any advertising on the Internet”, Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry told Reuters.
But Chowdhry is mistakenly grouping a website that follows your computer’s movement online with a mobile app loaded onto a GPS-capable smartphone assigned only to you and that can track your movement in the real world, others suggest.
“An app loaded on my iPhone could literally track me through the aisles of Macy’s”, analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates told me.
If history is a guide, mobile apps are destined to get caught up in the same kind of controversy that engulfed radio-frequency identification or RFID, a technology that makes it possible to identity someone in possession of a small RFID chip or tag who passes within a few feet of a reader.
A related technology called near field communication or NFC, that makes it possible for two devices within a 4-inch radius to communicate, is featured on Google’s newest flagship phone, the Nexus S, and could make its way on to the majority of new android smartphones within a year.
The problems, according to Gold, are that technology is well beyond the users’ ability to understand what’s going on and very few apps are asking for permission before they collect data about you.
Public perception of how privacy can be violated may change with the outcome of the Apple trial, which Gold says will be the first of many.
And while the controversy may not stop the mobile app gold rush, it should be obvious that companies developing apps will be better served if they see it as an opportunity to make it easier for users to control how their information is used.