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Think BR: Brands must play part to build trust in apps

The mobile industry has to make sure it protects consumers' privacy while driving engagement, writes Rimma Perelmuter, executive director, MEF.

Rimma Perelmuter, executive director, MEF

Rimma Perelmuter, executive director, MEF

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Last month the social journal mobile application Path was outed for uploading users’ address books to its servers.

This practice was rapidly exposed as an unspoken industry standard and indeed it quickly came to light that a whole host of other major social mobile applications, including Facebook and Twitter, may be pursuing similar methods of data collection without the consumer’s ‘informed consent'.   

The ensuing media storm saw Apple declare that a pre-requisite of inclusion in its app store would require users' permission to index phone book details, location and other contact information explicitly via a pop-up message.   

Twitter also moved quickly to update its privacy policy over concerns about how its mobile app used address book information.

These policy changes are a step in the right direction but the spotlight is now rightly shining on the issues of privacy and security in mobile applications.  

For these issues to be fully addressed, it is vital that the consumer is at the centre and that trust is built on transparency and informed consent.  

Missing out consent is disastrous to the market. But do opaque or incomprehensible opt-in policies actually sufficiently inform the consumer?

There is also a more subtle problem to consider: the difference between the perception of abuses of privacy and the intent and resulting harm that exists in reality. 

Both perception and reality are significant barriers to mainstream consumer adoption and affect the total mobile ecosystem.

This is a growing consumer trust issue. Recent research from Harris Interactive (2011), found that 38% of mobile users cite privacy as the number one concern when using mobile applications, followed by security (26%), identity tracking (19%) and sharing information with or without permission (14%).

MEF's 2011 Global Consumer Survey in to mobile trust and privacy supports these findings with an average 27% citing security as a major concern. 

Mix in media coverage that skews the perception of abuses of privacy and history tells us that it’s not long before draconian legislative steps are taken that threaten the industry’s innovation and dynamism in creating consumer facing businesses, brands and agencies. 

This of course is a huge concern and it’s vital that brand marketers work with the mobile industry to safeguard innovation while sustaining consumer trust. 

Our perspective is that the responsibility for doing so lies with all players across the value chain and the best way forward is to offer practical tools that gain the consumer’s informed consent.

Back to the situation with Path. It would be a mistake to presume that its creators were trying to achieve anything other creating a great social tool for its users. 

The problem lies with accessing specific bits of user data to activate its social dimension without the consumer’s explicit consent as the core assumption of its business model.

So what practical steps can we take to protect consumers’ privacy and drive mobile engagement?

One thing is clear - sustaining consumer trust is not just a task for the app stores but for the whole mobile value-chain including service providers, developers, brands and mobile agencies. 

Everyone needs to participate in the creation and adoption of best practices for responsible collection and use of mobile user data in a way that creates a more contextual, personalised and trusted mobile engagement experience.

Trust between mobile consumers and the apps that they use is inevitably sensitive and absolutely vital to the development of the industry.

It therefore in turn follows that as an industry we need to be highly sensitive and proactive to privacy issues. 

Rimma Perelmuter, executive director, MEF

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