Survey: Mobile users care about data privacy

More that half of all mobile app users surveyed have either deleted or declined to install an app over privacy concerns

More than half of all mobile-phone app users surveyed have either declined to download an available app or deleted one from their device because of concerns about the collection of their personal data, according to the survey released Wednesday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Fifty-four percent of U.S. mobile app users surveyed have decided not to install an app when they discovered how much personal information it would collect, according to the survey. Thirty percent of app users have uninstalled an app after learning about the personal information it collected. With significant crossover between the two groups, 57 percent have either refused to download an app or deleted one over privacy concerns, the survey said.

The survey has implications for the mobile industry, said Mary Madden, coauthor of a report that accompanies the survey and a senior research specialist at Pew.

"At a time when the use of mobile applications is steadily growing, we find that many app users are taking privacy considerations into account," she said in an email. "This data suggests 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."

Mobile phones have accelerated the pace at which users collect and generate data, the report said. "Users' cell phones are now rich repositories of memories and content that chronicle their lives," the report said. "A staggering archive of personally identifiable information exists about cell users -- a reality that is both the consequence of and driving force of the networked age."

About 17 percent of mobile phone owners surveyed said they use their device for most of their online browsing. Forty-three percent of mobile phone owners now download apps, up from 31 percent in 2011, the Pew survey said.

"Consumers are amassing apps on their cell phones in record numbers," the report said. "At the same time, some app developers are quietly amassing sensitive and personal data from their users."

The survey, of 2,254 U.S. adults in March and April, found that 88 percent of the respondents use mobile phones. Thirty-two percent of mobile owners have cleared the browser or search history on their devices, and 19 percent have turned off the location-tracking feature on their phones because of privacy concerns, the survey said.

Nearly a third of mobile phone users surveyed said they have lost a device or had one stolen, and 12 percent said they've had another person access data on their device in a way that raised privacy concerns.

The survey shows that mobile consumers are becoming better informed, said Morgan Reed, executive director of the Association for Competitive Technology, a trade group representing a number of mobile app developers.

"Consumers are making individually appropriate decisions about what they want to share," he said in an email. "As developers, we look to build apps that provide cool features in a way that keeps the customer happy."

Separately, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday released a guide to help app developers protect user privacy.

Mobile app developers should "tell the truth" about the functionality of their apps, disclose important information clearly and conspicuously, and honor their privacy promises, the FTC's guide said.

"Chances are you make assurances to users about the security standards you apply or what you do with their personal information," the guide said. "App developers -- like all other marketers--- have to live up to those promises."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service
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