Entangled within the mobile device ecosystem reside extensive benefits inextricably bound together with very real privacy concerns. Panelists at the IAPP Europe Data Protection Intensive in London, UK, tackled the so-called “appification” of society, making the case that such a complex ecosystem requires a user-centric model fed by strong security, self-regulation, transparency, standardization of icons and broad consumer education.

To be sure, this is no small task, but one key theme throughout the session was the importance of considering the person more than the data. To consider the person in a global ecosystem, however, is challenging as people and cultures think varyingly about privacy. Mobile, for example, is now making its way into developing countries where, in some areas, illiteracy is more prevalent.

Providing informed consent will require universally understood icons, said Linklaters Global Head of Data Protection and Privacy Tanguy Van Overstraeten. Icons should be fully standardized, and broad education of what icons mean is paramount. Public authorities, he said, have an important role to play here, especially for children. Plus, standardizing icons creates certainty for organizations and people.

“You could abide by all the global privacy rules,” said GSMA Director of Privacy-Public Policy Patrick Walshe, “but it doesn’t mean that users will trust you.” Using standard icons gives people a trusted touch-point.

It’s important to note, too, that a wide range of technology, such as smartphones and wearables, is set to broadcast and, conversely, collect data by default. “We’re now in a default broadcast society,” said Walshe. “Things have to change.”

Tanguy Van Overstraeten, Patrick Walshe, Simon Rice and David Rogers discuss "Mobile Applications: Data Protection in the Interconnected Age" at the IAPP Europe Data Protection Intensive in London.

One major component to a user-centric approach, the panel argued, is self-regulation with oversight. Walshe discussed the GSMA’s mobile privacy principles in relation to other mobile privacy guidelines. “The only self-regulated guidelines being implemented,” he said, “are the GSMAs.” Of course, in the U.S. the California Office of the Attorney General, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and others have issued guidelines, but Walshe questioned whether there was oversight, asking, “Do they just gather dust?”

He said the GSMA’s accountability framework has been adopted by many operators as well. The framework includes oversight, assurance, transparency, remediation and enforcement. “This is about commitment,” he said, adding, “You can’t expect your users to understand all these complexities.”

And though users expect their smartphones to be secure by default, Copper Horse Security Specialist David Rogers said users will jump over any obstacle to get what they want, often against their best interests. “Users will always choose dancing kittens over security,” he said, later adding, “If you give them something attractive at the end of the rainbow, they will get there.”

Rogers said social engineering is one huge problem, much more so than malware. Quoting Georgia Tech’s Patrick Traynor, Rogers said, “You are more likely to get struck by lightning in your entire lifetime than you are to be infected by mobile malware.”

Preventing users from clicking untrusted links or download sketchy apps, on the other hand, is a much greater problem.

“Our challenge,” said Rogers, “is to try to eliminate barriers that encourage automatic behavior.” He said users should be incentivized to make good decisions on mobile.

In addition to securing the business and trust of users, the steady gaze of regulators is a motivator to get privacy right in the mobile environment as well. UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) Group Manager (Technology) Simon Rice sent out a heads up: “If you think your app is on the edge, get your house in order because someone might come knocking soon.” He said currently there are some cases moving through the ICO—mostly involving data security issues. Rice also noted that 49 percent of users won’t download an app due to privacy concerns; the ICO tries to offer carrots as well as sticks.

In the end, mobile privacy really isn’t fundamentally different from data privacy as a whole. Rice stressed what he called the first data protection principle: “Explain before you do something they don’t expect.”

That’s good guidance no matter where you’re operating.

Written By

Jedidiah Bracy, CIPP/E, CIPP/US


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