Privacy is consumers' top mobile app concern: survey

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Privacy is consumers' top concern when using mobile applications, according to a survey by online security firm TRUSTe released April 27. Nearly four in 10 consumers (38%) identified privacy as their top concern, and more than half (56%) said the issue is one of their foremost concerns, according to the online survey of 1,000 consumers conducted in February by research company Harris Interactive.

Privacy is an important issue for consumers because of the personal information that mobile devices hold, such as contact lists and emails, said Fran Maier, president and executive chair of the board at TRUSTe. She added that 85% of consumers restrict the information they share through their mobile phones, with “more than half” unwilling to share their location, address, date of birth, phone number and browsing history.

More than half (52%) of consumers said they have read an app's privacy policy, according to the study. Nearly three in four consumers (74%) expressed dislike of advertiser tracking, and 85% said they want the ability to opt-in and opt-out of targeted mobile ads.

“I think they're showing a fair amount of reticence because they recognize that there's so much personal information there,” she said. “So really what they want is control. They want to be able to decide what information to share.”

The subject of mobile consumer privacy gained major media attention this week after various outlets reported that Apple and Google track the location of mobile devices running each company's operating system. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has called for the two companies to take part in a hearing next month on mobile privacy.

Nearly all (98%) of respondents said they want better controls over what information can be collected and how that information can be used. More than two-thirds (68%) said they are aware of behavioral tracking, but Maier said many overestimate how much they are being tracked and targeted on mobile devices.

“At this point and time, there are not cookies,” she said. “Google just announced [two weeks ago] that it will be doing some targeting on apps for advertising, but it hasn't really been deployed at this point and time. So because [consumers] perhaps don't know enough about what's being used and how they're being targeted, they're assuming they're being targeted much more than they are, and they don't like it.”

Consumers were split on whether they feel they have choices about the collection and use of their location-based data by apps. Fewer than four in 10 (36%) consumers said they believe they have a choice, while 28% said they do not and 37% were unsure.

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