App-etite for destruction – iPhone users the most careless

8 Nov 2011

Three-quarters of smartphone users fail to read the terms and conditions contained in mobile apps such as Angry Birds and Paper Toss, which include access to data such as their physical location. iPhone users are the most careless, with 65pc completely unaware that free applications may compromise their privacy.

This is despite 69pc of consumers being adamant such privacy breaches are totally unacceptable, according to a survey by AdaptiveMobile.

“Consumers are outraged that their data may not be secure but are unwilling to protect themselves,” says AdaptiveMobile VP of Handset Security, Ciaran Bradley.

“It’s like getting angry at the prospect of being burgled, but announcing publically when their house is unoccupied.

“We are downloading more apps than ever before, but people are unaware that their location and other information can be harvested by applications. This is comparable to half of the population being unaware that they need to lock their front door. While mobile operators do have a role to play to protect users, both need to step up and take responsibility.”

According to the survey, one in four consumers (25pc) are still blasé about their personal data, admitting they would be willing to exchange their details for a free app download. However, 75pc are more cautious, saying they would pay more for apps if they could be assured of good privacy.

“Consumers and the wider mobile industry need to become savvier about the information which is shared by apps,” said Mike Hawkes, chairman of The Mobile Data Association. “It is becoming commonplace that personal information is shared with advertisers and developers, and the industry needs to adapt accordingly. This includes both better understanding and higher visibility of terms and conditions, as well as the ability to take appropriate actions if guidelines are overstepped.”

In-house research from AdaptiveMobile has shown that common applications including Angry Birds, Jaws and Paper Toss have access to information, including country, city, location co-ordinates and owner’s name, and may contact up to 17 different domains to share this kind of information with external bodies, including advertisers.

iPhone users most careless, Windows Phone users most responsible

“iPhone users are the most careless, with 65pc completely unaware that free applications may compromise their privacy,” continued Bradley.

“Windows Phone users are currently the most responsible, with almost a third (29pc) promising to stop downloading free applications if they had any doubt that their personal information was not safe. This caution is characteristic of Windows Phone users, with 95pc of them ‘quite’ or ‘very’ concerned about privacy infringements.”

It is clear that users and operators need to work together to be protected, and many have made a start. At the time of the survey, although 70pc did not know how to configure their smartphone security, 60pc have now vowed to read the terms and conditions of applications in future and 43pc have also promised to customise security measures on their phones, or seek further guidance from operators about it.

“If we are to slow the rise in cyber crime, consumers need to become more aware of the need for phone security, and operators should provide protection against the unauthorised or inadvertent leakage of personal data to guard and build trust with their users,” concluded Bradley.

“Not only will this frustrate hackers and other cyber criminals, but also ensure that consumers can have a safe mobile experience.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years