Survey on Mobile Phones and privacy

July 15, 2012 |

Jennifer Urban, Chris Jay Hoofnagle and Su Li of University of California at Berkeley have conducted a survey of Americans on their attitudes towards Mobile Phones and privacy.  It is found here.

It is a very interesting report. It confirms what many interested in privacy law have known for a long time, despite what Facebook, Google and on line providers say for most people Privacy Matters.  That the law has not caught up with providing proper privacy protections is trite.  But the inertia in trying to bridge that gap is significant and chronic.

The conclusion of the report are worth reproducing.  They are:

The overall picture we developed from responses to this survey suggests that Americans both use a wide variety of mobile phone features and services that collect a rich set of personal information, and assign a strong privacy interest to that information. This includes the younger age cohorts who are most quickly adopting smartphones and their richest features.
At the same time, the market has produced few realistic, privacy-protective alternatives to the dominant, privacy-invasive online services.    Greater transparency and consent requirements could help, but only if consumers can realistically make decisions that align more closely with their preferences for privacy than many of the value propositions available in the market today.
Under our current regulatory regime, firms can and do cram questionable demands for contact lists and other sensitive information in disclosures. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that providing meaningful, descriptive notices is genuinely difficult in most mobile environments. Firms also sometimes condition rendition of service on disproportionate demands for personal data.
The gulf between private sector information demands and consumer preferences suggest that better disclosures and choice mechanisms alone will simply preserve the status quo. More aggressive interventions are necessary to create incentives for firms to reduce collection of personal information.
Particularly where privacy tradeoffs have not been made clear, consumers need the ability to change their minds and walk away from a service. While the Federal Trade Commission has so far focused upon improving consumers’ positions ex ante, increasingly we need to consider ex post interventions, such as a right to delete information associated with an account, so that the consumer can exit whole.
Among public sector actors, there is also a gulf between user expectations and the law governing access to information about wireless phone usage. While law enforcement officials make more requests for data each year, our respondents evinced strong support for substantial limitations on the retention of wireless phone usage data. This study shows that Americans support direct limits on law enforcement activities, as well. In particular, respondents thought that some prior court oversight is necessary when police seek to search a wireless phone when arresting an individual.





Leave a Reply