Email Alerts

Sign-up to Get Notified

Receive monthly reminders on when to check your wireless plan's data usage. Don't be caught by surprise again.



Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Survey finds overwhelming support for mobile privacy controls

Marketers, companies and other entities see mobile phones as a rich source of personal information about individuals. Both private and public sectors seek to collect this information. Facebook, among other companies, recently ignited a controversy by collecting contact lists from users’ mobile phones via its mobile app. A recent Congressional investigation found that law enforcement agencies sought access to wireless phone records over one million times in 2011. The collection and use of personal information via mobile phones has become a lightening rod for privacy advocates, policymakers and the media. To inform the debate and better understand Americans’ attitudes towards privacy in data generated by or stored on mobile phones, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley commissioned a nationwide telephone (both wireline and wireless) survey of 1,200 households focusing upon mobile privacy issues. The results are available in a research paper written by Jennifer M. Urban, Chris Jay Hoofnagle and Su Li titled "Mobile Phones and Privacy." The study found that Americans overwhelmingly consider information stored on their mobile phones to be private — at least as private as information stored on their home computers. They also overwhelmingly reject several current types of data collection and use. A large majority have rejected allowing contact lists stored on the phone to be used to tailor social network “friend” suggestions and providing coupons, the collection of location data for serving customized ads, and the use of wireless contact information for telemarketing, even where there is already a business relationship between the consumer and merchant. This issue is worsened by the fact that providing meaningful, descriptive notices is difficult on small phone screens. When consumers say no to company requests for "disproportionate demands for personal data" they can't use the service, making this a Hobson's choice for most consumers. Respondents showed strong support for substantial limitations on how long companies should be allowed to store and use 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. Click here to download the study.