By Angelique Carson, CIPP/US

Consumers are now more concerned about privacy when it comes to their mobile phones than they are about phone screen size, brand, weight or camera resolution. That’s according to TRUSTe’s 2013 Consumer Data Privacy Study, which polled more than 700 U.S. smartphone users. Only a phone’s battery life topped privacy when users’ prioritized their concerns.

The survey, released today, also found that 63 percent of mobile users are “frequently or always” concerned about privacy when shopping or banking online and 78 percent won’t download a mobile app they don’t trust.

That finding may be particular relevant now as various entities scramble to develop self-regulatory codes of conduct for mobile apps and their developers. Most recently, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration released its code of conduct on “short-form notices,” and similar frameworks have been released by various groups, including the Digital Advertising Alliance, the Network Advertising Initiative, California’s Office of the Attorney General and the Future of Privacy Forum.

Dave Deasy, vice president of marketing for TRUSTe, said consumers’ reticence to download apps they may not trust is a trend that’s tracked steadily over the last two years or so.

“As a marketer myself, these are the kinds of statistics that I would find incredibly alarming, because companies spend enormous amounts of resources building great apps,” Deasy said. “And if, in the end, you’re only going to find out people aren’t willing to download the app because they don’t trust you, it’s going to have pretty significant business implications. It’s something people clearly need to dedicate a lot of attention to and look for ways to address.”

Consumers are increasingly aware of mobile tracking, the survey also found, and of those aware of such tracking, 69 percent dislike it, a statistic that perhaps adds weight to California’s recent decision to amend the California Online Privacy Protection Act to require commercial websites and services that collect personal data to disclose how they respond to Do-Not-Track signals.

Of course, 31 percent of those surveyed indicated they are unaware of mobile ad tracking at all.

“That’s a pretty significant amount that aren’t aware, which is a bit surprising,” Deasy said. “Historically, people assume that certain types of activities occur on their computer but have been a bit slower to catch on that your phone … really is a computer. So we’re seeing consumers catch up from an educational standpoint that their concerns about data on their computers are clearly the same ones that they have on their phones.”

Seemingly in contrast to the data indicating users place a premium on privacy and won’t download apps they don’t trust, mobile users are more willing to share personal data than they were a year ago, the survey found.

“The reality is that there are lots of companies out there who are taking privacy seriously and have been investing a lot of resources and coming into better data practices and being more transparent about data,” Deasy said. “While the numbers aren’t as overwhelming as we’d like, we’re seeing a bit of reality that in some cases, if not in many cases, consumers are becoming a bit more comfortable sharing.”

Consumers did indicate, however, that they were not willing to share contact information (99 percent), precise location data (89 percent) or web-surfing behavior.

In the end, 76 percent said they believe they are ultimately responsible for their own privacy. Which Deasy says may indicate to businesses that they should give consumers increasing control over how their data is handled.

“The business implications are real, and I don’t think it gets any more real when 80 percent say they won’t download the app if they don’t trust it,” Deasy said. “Seventy-six percent don’t want to put their trust in someone else’s hands. As a business, if you give consumers that control and put them in a position where they’re able to manage their privacy, you’re going to go a long way toward helping to build that trust with them. Gradually, over time, I think we’ll start to see that trust meter move in the right direction.”

See the full survey here.

Read More by Angelique Carson:
PCLOB Finds a Director, Looks Toward Action
Did NTIA's Multi-Stakeholder Process Work? Depends Whom You Ask.
The Campaign for a Universal Declaration of Digital Rights
Former FTC Staffer Hired as FPF’s First Policy Director


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