In this series about the struggles between new technology and consumer privacy rights I will discuss the problems involved in companies collecting information about consumers from a legal and economic stand point while trying to give insight from a person on both sides of the issue.
The mobile app market is full of thousands of apps designed to make your life less stressful and more organized but the trade-off could be consumer privacy. More and more products are hitting store shelves everyday that allow you to control them with your smart phone. These products hope to make your life a little less stressful. For example the “SmartThings” app enables you to control everyday objects in your home from your Iphone; therefore alerting you if you left the TV or the oven on. There are also apps designed to save you time, such as “RetailMeNot”, a coupon app that sends you coupons from your favorite stores. Most of these products weren’t available a decade ago and the increase in smart product technology has many questioning the impact it has on their privacy.
Consumers are asking for more efficient apps in hopes that they save them time, but the trade off is usually giving up their privacy. One personal example many can relate to involves the weather. When I was younger, while I ate my cereal before school, my mom would watch the weather from the local news to decide if she needed to send a coat with me. The weatherman might talk for five plus+ minutes about this storm cell or that wind current in a nearby county before he got around to the weather where we lived. This makes since, of course, the weather came from one weatherman that had to tell thousands of people in several different locations whether or not they should grab their umbrellas before leaving for the day. Flash-forward to present day and I still have to decide what I should wear before leaving for the day (this time without my mom’s expert guidance). The same act of checking the weather that used to take five to ten minutes at a precise time can now be done anytime, from anywhere, and is available instantly at a push of the “button”. This is possible thanks to mobile smart devices and apps that track your location and can give you pertinent information based on “you”. “You” being anything from your simple GPS location or as complex as, you stopping to get coffee at Starbucks on Mondays and shop at the grocery store on your way home from work on Wednesdays. Some people, maybe I might be so bold to say most people, might be fine with giving their weather app their simple GPS location so they can have up-to-the-minute weather information for their location. Those same people might or might not also say that they where O.K. with their app knowing their daily routine.
What one person wants their smart device to know about them for the sake of convenience, compared to the next person’s privacy preferences are as individual as that person. However, the vast majority of people agree on the fact that they want to make more informed choices on the information that is gathered. In a study by MDG Advertising, eighty-four percent of people said they wanted to be informed about what information was being collected through social media. These numbers reflect the general concern of the consumer on what knowledge their smart devices collect. The struggle between apps collecting information to aid consumers while not making consumers feel as though their privacy is being violated is an on going battle. So much so that the federal courts are becoming involved and a new definition of the term “privacy” may soon be established. This is the topic for part two of Privacy vs Efficiency, when I discuss the legal struggle between emerging technologies and the privacy people feel is being invaded.