App makers must be more transparent in the wake of the latest Facebook (FB) scandal. It was recently revealed that some third-party apps shared user data with the social network without a user’s knowledge or consent.
Many users who download an app either don’t bother to peruse the app’s privacy policies or simply can’t because the policies are tucked away in an area that’s hard to find. But something as forthright as a pop-up message when users open the app for the first time with a message detailing the data collection process could fix that.
“The truth is that I see this moving in much more of a similar model to what Apple and Google do, which is to say that every app that uses its SDK, or [software] developer kits that are created by the Facebook platform will just have to include compliance statements in there,” said Omar Akhtar, an analyst for the Altimeter Group. “The idea is that it's not so much that they're using the data. It’s that they're using the data without the knowledge of the people who are a part of this.”
According to a report published by The Wall Street Journal late last week, at least 11 third-party apps were sending users’ personal data back to Facebook without users’ knowledge or consent, even if those users don’t have a Facebook profile. The apps in question use a Facebook analytics tool called App Events that records user activity. While the App Events tool can provide app makers with data-driven insights about their users, it also sends information back to Facebook, which could be identified on a user-by-user basis — a violation of users’ privacy.
“The key issue is whether consumers are aware when they download an app that their data will be shared, and for what purpose,” said Debra Aho Williamson, a principal analyst with eMarketer. “Most privacy policies have some sort of language to cover this sort of thing, but they usually aren’t specific.”
Little negative impact on Facebook
Even though apps will have to be more explicit moving forward, and even if they move to limit the amount and type of data they send to Facebook, the changes likely won’t have a negative impact on Facebook, which generates the lion’s share of its revenue from mobile and desktop ads. That’s because the social network gleans data from a wide range of sources, not just from apps, for its targeted advertising.
“They [Facebook] still have more data on anyone in the social space — opting in gives you a better experience,” explains Brent Thill, an analyst at Jefferies. “If you don’t, the platform will decay and advertisers will leave. But I don’t expect that based on our work. Advertisers still love this platform and while users need a break from time to time, most come back given the compelling experience.”
At least users will likely have a clearer, more accurate understanding of what they are signing up for when they download an app next time.
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