Blog Post: Beware Of Privacy Statistics

We all have agendas, including myself. I’m here because I’m passionate about a few aspects of my work and I devoted this space to shed some light on it. Others want to see products or services, while some have a particular message they want to push forward. When I disagree with someone’s opinion, it’s not meant to be contrary or inflammatory (as the Internet has a tendency toward right now). 

I only mean to respectfully disagree and offer the other side.

Thus is the case with a study about mobile device privacy released by MEF about how concerned mobile users are about their privacy. I have not downloaded the full report (members are the only ones with that privilege), but some of the numbers in the executive summary are a little confusing. I wanted to highlight some of the information in this ten-country survey with 9,500 respondents:

  • In terms of comfort, 52% of respondents are not at all comfortable storing their credit card information within an app. This is not a huge shock that people would respond this way, until you take into consideration that payment information is stored on the phone itself. There’s a good chance that they used the stored credit card number to purchase many of the apps.
  • In the same vein, 33% are not at all comfortable sharing their personal information and 35% feel the same way about their location. This would mean that people are more comfortable sharing where they currently are than their credit card number. Just remember, plastic can be cancelled with one phone call but you can never be un-stalked.
  • A third of respondents (33%) feel that they have control over how their personal information is used for advertising purposes. This means one out of three people lie to themselves in the mirror every day.
  • With regard to gathering and sharing of information, 70% of respondents feel that is is very important to know what information an app is gathering and subsequently sharing with third-party services. This would mean that a user wants to know what Facebook is gathering and then sharing with Spotify. The same comment from last paragraph applies here as well.

The most poignant statement in this report sums up my thoughts on this subject:

“This means there is a gap between perception and reality – the power they think they have, and the power they actually do.” 

Most of the data was framed with a specific agenda: to lead respondents down a path that scares them about their privacy. If the information had been framed to allow people to feel secure, you might see different percentages.

Privacy is a desert oasis in this day and age. I share something personal about my life when I buy groceries, get gas for my car, and take my kids to the museum. It is possible to sequester data about your life, but it involves living off cash and burner phones.

It’s a good thing to share data with your mobile devices, as long as you take the view that whatever you share should be public. If you don’t want to share your location, you can turn that off. If you think Facebook is evil and shouldn’t know everything about you, stop sharing (or even delete your account).

Once you view your online life through the right lens, this survey becomes relevant only as a warning against over-sharing.

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