The New Face of Privacy

Guest Post by Naomi Morita, CTO, Locaid Last week, gigaOm published an article about Android's new “App Ops” feature that allows users to pick and choose which features are turned on for each app they install on their phone. Those features include Location, an ongoing hot topic in terms of user privacy.

The realities of the current ad-based, freemium/premium app model are summed up in the gigaOm article as follows:

“The reason privacy is not baked into many apps in this way, is that the concept runs counter to the developer’s current or potential business model — it’s that whole “if you’re not paying, you are the product” thing. So what happens when the user gets to stymie their own monetization by turning off the bits of the app that they don’t like? The app breaks from a business model point of view, that’s what.”

While true, there is a much more serious consequence of Android's App Ops controls – the increased complexity of developing apps in the presence of this new feature. More complexity means more cost in both time and resources.

The article also points out that “App Ops will certainly encourage the re-architecting of the app to make sure that the switching-off of one component, such as tracking, doesn’t break too many other parts of the app.”

Again, this is probably true. But in the hyper-competitive, feature-focused, market-grabbing “fling it out there and they will come” mobile app space, how many early-stage investors will support a strategy of careful architecture and data-scrubbing for privacy holes before committing the app to the marketplace? It’s hard to envision too many companies being willing to take the time that would be necessary to fully re-imagine how their apps are constructed.

Locaid has been successful largely in part because privacy is built into our platform which removes the worry of these privacy holes for our developer customers . As our CEO, Rip Gerber, pointed out in his last blog on the new Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) mobile data rules, Locaid has long realized the importance users’ privacy, and has an iron-clad privacy policy that is third-party certified, protects users’ data and is easy to understand.  In fact, back in 2011, we won the CTIA’s Big Idea Contest with our Locaider™ privacy management system.

While privacy is at the center of our industry and cannot be ignored,  it is possible to have a notion of privacy that is not absolute – of course location services are an understandable aspect of a restaurant finding app, but who wouldn't be skeptical if their flashlight app is asking for access to their location data?

Locaid provides information while guaranteeing a user's privacy is protected, meaning that if an unwitting Android user turned off the location aspect of an app, they would not necessarily be gaining more “privacy” ipso facto.

Will users simply turn off location services to gain peace of mind, thinking that their privacy concerns have been handled? Or will users be led to understand exactly what the consequences and effects will be once specific settings in each app are suspended or turned off.

While it is never easy to predict the new directions technologies will take in the future, it is clear that privacy concerns are the hot issue of the moment for app developers. If users do not feel as though developers care about their privacy, they could start migrating to apps that deal more transparently with the issue.

Jeff John Roberts posits in his recent article that the privacy “fad” could have some negative effects in terms of app creativity. If developers think consumers care most about privacy, they are at risk of focusing too much on the issue and not enough on releasing creative and interesting content.

Additionally, Roberts points out that it’s not just consumers who are driving the privacy trend forward – its companies who are scared about regulatory exposure. In the 1990's, there was a spate of litigation against companies for information gathering. Today’s tech leaders such as Apple and Google are at risk of  overcompensating on the privacy front, or, more cynically, by getting better at hiding their data collection.

Locaid has benefited from, not taken advantage of, consumers' growing competence and knowledge about privacy options on their mobile devices. While many companies will most likely end up competing over who can have the best-sounding, most sense-of-security-instilling privacy policies, it will fall on companies such as Locaid to be the hammer and nails of the privacy issue.

 

As Chief Technology Officer at Locaid, Naomi Morita is responsible for the company’s technology vision and location sourcing of Locaid’s “Location-as-a-Service” platform. Naomi has over 15 years experience in building technology-enhanced and mission-critical solutions for enterprise customers, including Western Union, UPS, USDA and Comcast. Her work in location began with evangelizing worldwide “user plane” a-GPS solutions at SnapTrack (now Qualcomm) and continued on as head product manager of Chaperone, Autodesk's white-labeled application for Verizon. Prior to Locaid, Naomi provided leadership to iLoop Mobile's Service Delivery team to maintain and grow a client base of 80+ accounts including Yahoo!, Sony, Coca-Cola, CREDO Mobile, ePrize, Deutsche Bank, Paramount and Hasbro. Her work includes broad patents for location-driven analytics. Naomi is an active member of the Board of Directors for the Application Developer’s Alliance.