Privacy and Personalization. Can people have it all?

If you are like most Android and iOS users, you’re likely never too far from your smartphone. Wherever you go, your phone goes, which means your movements can be tracked even when you least expect it.

The data is in the details: During a period of time between July and November, reporters from The New York Times tested the location and data practices of ten different Android and iOS apps including their own. Their findings revealed that location data companies often compile bundles of code that collect and disperse information to app developers, advertisers, marketers and analysis companies. Sometimes this information is used to provide targeted advertising, app statistics or the data is shared with a third party for an alternate purpose. As part of their test, each reporter granted permission to collect their location data to those apps who requested it. The article listed each app tested and a comment from the company when provided. While some of the companies were more open than others about their data sharing practices, several referred users to their privacy settings or privacy policy for more detail.

Each time you download a new app to your smartphone, you’re given the opportunity to read through terms & conditions and enable location services, however, 91% of users consent to one or the other without fully knowing what it entails.

Personalization comes at a cost: In a piece written for TechTalks titled, Re-examining user experience: Can personalization and privacy coexist? NTENT CTO, Dr. Ricardo Baeza-Yates, explained how the power of privacy resides at the device and provider levels, dependent upon the settings configured by the user. For example, the most secure privacy settings yield a generic experience with less relevant results or ad placement. In this case, privacy is set at the provider level meaning the provider has chosen not to track or share your data. This works best for someone who uses their smartphone to access the Internet at a very basic level for searches like news or weather forecasts.

The least amount of privacy protection occurs at the device level when a user grants full tracking permissions to a service provider through any trackable means such as cookies or location services and remains logged in to the app. It results in a highly personalized experience with search results and notifications finely tuned to meet your needs, but the reward of personalization comes at a much higher risk to your privacy.

It’s the People’s Choice: Smartphones are meant to make our lives easier. The more access the apps on your phone have to your daily routine and habits, the more convenient your experience could be. But if you prefer to keep your data somewhat to yourself, it’s important to understand the privacy policy for each app you use. Don’t dismiss the pop-ups that ask you to enable tracking without fully understanding what it’s tracking and how the information will be used. To learn more about the spectrum of privacy versus personalization, and how to safely make the most of your smartphone experience, read Dr. Baeza-Yates’ full article here.