Finally getting around to the recap of our last Mobile Monday event, Mobile Privacy: Policy & Practice, which we held at the Venable LLP conference center in downtown Washington on Oct. 15. Our thanks go to Rick Joyce from Venable for moderating a superb panel discussion about privacy law and policy and its impact on mobile application and solution development.
- Bryan Coapstick, HP
- Jennifer Wells, PBS Kids
- Jules Polonetsky, Future of Privacy Forum
- Michael Signorelli, Venable LLP
Here’s a short summary of a fascinating, wide-ranging discussion. If you were there, please add your comments and thoughts about the event
- Privacy, or to be more specific, managing personal information and who has access to it, is hard.
- It’s hard to be sure what should be private and what shouldn’t. Jules noted that what used to be considered intrusive is now common practice. Not only that, but we can be be easily influenced to change our privacy preferences based on peer pressure and other “non-objective” factors
- It’s hard to know what others are doing with our information. Bryan noted that most mobile apps in app stores use questionable privacy techniques.
- It’s hard to manage our own information. Bryan explained that we all have multiple personas on line, and need to understand where our boundaries are and how we want to manage the balance of usability and privacy
- Protecting the privacy of children on line is even harder
- Many services (iTunes, Facebook) have rules that prohibit young children from using those services, but parents help their kids use them anyway. As Mike noted, his kids sometimes want to see Dad’s iPad more than they want to see Dad. Parents download apps for their kids from iTunes, and create accounts for them on Facebook
- As Jennifer noted, PBS prevents violations of privacy by not collecting analytics on its kids apps, but this then makes it very hard to learn what works in those apps so PBS can improve the educational and overall experience
- Government regulation is already happening, but may not be ideal
- As several panelists noted, law and regulation cannot keep up with the pace of technology, and most legislators don’t have the necessary technical expertise to understand the issues
- Despite this, when legislators and regulators see problems, they want to fix them, and will create solutions if industry does not do so first
- Industry has the right know-how to act, but that’s hard as well
- Jennifer remarked that there are industry standards, but not everyone follows them. The mobile app space is still in many ways the wild West.
- How you do something can be more important than what you do. Jules explained that good privacy systems require building the right kind of relationships with customers (and people in general). Those systems need to be built gradually, considering people’s responses along the way. His advice: Do things for people, not to them.
The tone of the discussion and the overall mood of the panelists was not nearly as negative as this summary may imply. The situation is improving, and business, government, and people are working out solutions to the challenges of privacy in the mobile world, as they have in other areas at the intersection of technology, policy, and law.
We will be back in 2013 with more interesting Mobile Monday DC events. Stay tuned!