The most useful mobile apps are those that provide information. Many people use location-based services on their devices to find important information like restaurants, grocery stores or even their friends’ locations. However, there is one increasingly emerging problem with these emerging technologies—many of these programs can be very intrusive and collect large quantities of private data without the user’s knowledge or consent. There is currently little regulation in place to stop this potentially harmful form of informational collection.
Recent studies suggest that only half of Americans believe they have control over how companies collect and use their personal data—but many do not even realize how much data is collected through mobile devices. Although most apps do include obvious signs that they are collecting information, many users do not pay attention and download apps anyway.
Mobile app development is a huge business, with projected revenue of $ 41 billion in 2017. There are currently over 2 million mobile applications available for smart phones and tablets, all promising to bring something unique to the user’s information-gathering experience. However, it is difficult to know the degree of privacy each application provides since there are no federal regulations to inform consumers. It is important to understand the implications of what we download onto our devices and how this data can affect us later on—as well as what potential consequences exist if we don’t try and protect ourselves from these problems.
What types of private information does your mobile device collect?
Many people use their cellphones as a powerful digital assistant, storing a wide range of information on their devices. This can include your personal calendar, contacts list and browsing history. Not only that, but many apps have access to the location of the device—and sometimes even its microphone or camera. When installed onto a mobile device, these programs will be able to track where you travel in real time—even when you’re not using your phone. In addition to this, there are few regulations protecting users from an app’s contents after they have been downloaded. With this lack of regulation comes a large grey area surrounding what data developers may collect from users and for what purpose it is being collected.
Data collection is necessary for some apps
While it is always wise to be cautious of new mobile apps, it is important to remember that some information needs to be collected to provide the desired service. For example, an app that helps you navigate through a city will need access to your location in order for the program to work properly—and there are many other services that can’t function without this information. While it is possible for users not to allow these programs full access since they are able to operate with only limited information such as your internet browser or contact list, more intrusive data collection methods may result in reduced functionality and fewer available features on the device.
What does this mean?
While companies must disclose their data collection policies before installation of an application, few users actually read the fine print. During installation most mobile applications ask for permission and the user is able to deny access if they wish, but it is often cumbersome and time-consuming to do so—and most people simply click allow. The problem with this approach is that there are many different groups interested in your information, including advertisers. If you want an ad-free experience with full functionality provided by the application, then you must disclose private data about yourself.
Although it may be necessary for some apps to collect personal information, your privacy should always come first. Since developers don’t necessarily have the best interest of their users at heart, it’s up to users themselves to learn more about how much private data can be shared before installation. While not all developers will take advantage of their access privileges to collect unnecessary data, there should be more transparency surrounding what information can be shared.
As our society becomes increasingly dependent on mobile devices, it is important that we understand the value of your personal data and how it can affect us in the long run. While there are no federal restrictions for app developers to share their users’ private data, it’s up to consumers themselves to decide whether or not they want to take the risk.