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Are Today’s Mobile Users Already Overwhelmed With Privacy Management?

Are Today’s Mobile Users Already Overwhelmed With Privacy Management?

You may have felt bombarded with permissions and other privacy management concerns almost all the time. Permission to access contacts list. Permission to access photo library. Permission to use location information. Permission to use email login information. Quite frankly, you may be feeling kind of overwhelmed already.


It turns out that you are not alone. According to a study presented at a recent privacy focused conference conducted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the nation’s capital Washington DC, people who own and use smartphones, especially those powered by Google’s Android mobile operating system, generally wish they could just say no to those pesky permission requests.


As explained by Serge Egelman, the co-author of the study, mobile users are can no longer bear the volume of permission requests and privacy policies they get via their mobile devices and through their online accounts. To remedy this, one potential solution is to bunch all privacy related actions into one single gesture, so instead of being bombarded with dozens of pop-ups, one just needs to push one button that takes care of every permission out there.


Permission related problems are actually nothing new. Back in 2007 when Microsoft released its Windows Vista operating system, a lot of users griped that the OS was asking permission too often that it felt like people were constantly having to deal with a nag on their PCs. This time around, the issue has migrated to mobile devices, which essentially means it affects more people now.


On the Android platform, mobile users can either accept all permissions when downloading a mobile app, or just choose not to download or install anything. With the release of Google’s latest Android version, Android 6.0 Marshmallow, people are made to sign off on more specific permissions, which means that you can allow certain levels of permissions, i.e. access to photos but not to contacts. But just like any new Android version, Marshmallow is still painfully limited to only a few devices as of now (not more than 1 percent as of the latest estimates). 


In Egelman’s study, 80 percent of those surveyed actually would have said no if given the opportunity. But the issue here is that just how many permission requests can you entertain before you start to feel overwhelmed? This question has no easy answers. But as Google has shown, it might be more efficient to tailor permission requests according to the preferences of mobile users. After all, if developers can let apps offer recommendations based on a user’s tendencies, why not apply the same thing to permission requests? Also, it might help to actually draft the text of permission requests into something more digestible. In other words, tone down the legalese, because nobody reads legalese.