Road rules for mobile privacy

Smartphones have handed marketers an unprecedented ability to put messages in front of audiences. Companies can now tell customers, in real time, about nearby deals and store locations. Since mobile devices are always on and always on us, it’s as if we’re walking around with a billboard in our pocket, making mobile an immensely powerful marketing channel.

However, since we put our lives on our smartphones, it’s also an especially sensitive channel. A national survey of smartphone users TRUSTe conducted last year found that privacy was the number one concern. Many companies have come under fire for collecting sensitive smartphone data without user awareness or permission. In the past six months, the Federal Trade Commission has settled two cases against app developers for violating privacy regulations and exposing user data.

Mobile marketers need to make privacy a brand asset, not a liability. Good privacy can competitively differentiate brands, while protecting marketing investments from costly litigation down the road.

Get a mobile privacy policy. Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard Development Company and Research In Motion (RIM) have all recently agreed that mobile apps, like websites, need distinct privacy policies. Your mobile policy should be both optimized and specific to the platform. Standard Web privacy policies are unreadable on smartphones and don’t typically contain mobile-specific disclosures.

Privacy policies present an opportunity to build brand trust by showing consumers you have nothing to hide, and they stand to benefit from sharing data. Clearly explain what you collect and why, and how you protect it.

Vet mobile ad partners. Mobile analytics providers and mobile ad networks can help deliver your marketing message, but you need to understand what kind of data they collect and how they use it. Do their privacy standards meet or exceed yours? By partnering with them, you put your brand on the line, and you could be ensnared in privacy snafus down the road. Read their privacy policies and ask them the hard questions before you incorporate them into your company’s new mobile app or select them to execute a mobile ad campaign. Consumers have a primary relationship with you, not your mobile partners. If something goes wrong on your mobile app, website or ad, you will be blamed.

Take only the data you need. It may be tempting to collect all the user data you can obtain, but chances are you don’t need it to perform the core function of your mobile app or to effectively market your products. Unused databases of personal data are huge privacy liabilities.

Ask for permission to collect sensitive information, such as a user’s location, contact information or photos. If you ask openly and explain how it can improve their experience, consumers will more likely share the data you want. It’s when you don’t ask them, and they find out later that problems arise.

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