What is Mobile Privacy?

When was the last time you read the privacy policy of a mobile app before installing it? Every time I ask this question at least 9 out of 10 people turn slightly red and answer: “Eeehhmm…I have never read a privacy policy…” This is absolutely comprehensible, because privacy policies are usually very long, incredibly hard to read, and nearly impossible to understand. If we read every privacy policy we come across, we would need to take a month off from work each year!

As certainly no one of us has the ambition to spend his or her holidays on policy reading (or do you?), the consequence of our ignorance is that we miss important information about the data collection and usage practices of mobile apps. As a result, we often do not know that our favorite app collects a huge amount of data about us. These data are regularly aggregated into user profiles, which are sold to marketers and other interested parties who, in turn, use these profiles for customized marketing and predictive analyses. These practices do not only result in a complete loss of anonymity and privacy, but they may also have serious negative consequences for consumers such as discrimination in buying situations and identity theft.

Although consumers like you and me are in general very concerned about the invasion of privacy by new technologies, such as mobile apps, they do not apply their concerns to their behavior correspondingly. This phenomenon is called the “privacy-paradox”: Despite high privacy concerns, many people still disclose a lot of personal information online by surfing the Internet and installing apps without taking adequate protection actions. One reason for this is consumers’ lack of risk awareness, which occurs when Internet users do not read privacy policies. However, apart from this lack of knowledge, there must be other reasons why people still engage in this risky behavior. My research project tries to find out what these other reasons might be.

One question that constantly comes up when I think about this topic is: Could it be that new technologies, such as mobile apps, have changed our idea of "privacy"? Are we nowadays less strict about disclosing information as long as the reward we get for sharing is attractive enough (for instance, discounts or access to an app)? Or did we simply capitulate, because we have the feeling that we cannot do anything about it?

I wonder what you, the reader, think about this topic. Do you have the feeling that you have control over the information you share via mobile apps? I would be glad if you could express your opinion on this topic by participating in our "Poll of the week" right next to this post.

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