“If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product”- with some recent changes to privacy policies of some of the high profile apps, this phrase seems to be resonating more loudly among social media like never before.
This debate puts socially responsible App developers in an interesting position. Developers can choose not to collect any data, but this makes detecting user pain points and making continuous and iterative improvements exponentially more difficult. As a result, most developers are forced to collect data. When collecting user data, however, there are two things to keep in mind:
The latter point is self-evident: don’t use the data in a way that harms your users, and don’t sell the data you collect without their permission.
Data collection, on the other hand, can be far more challenging. It is not easy to do so responsibly while adhering to industry norms and standards such as GDPR and ensuring that no user is personally identifiable through the data. Particularly while remaining focused on the core product offering.
The likes of an ideal solution – Anonymised, ethically collected data.
What factors contribute to data being truly anonymous? The distinction between confidential and anonymous data collection is straightforward. Confidential data includes a link that can be used to retrieve the user’s identity later. Anonymous data is recorded in such a way that the information can never be traced back to the subject who supplied it.
Anonymous data is not treated as personal data under GDPR. Therefore the guidelines are not enforced, just appreciated. However, it is very difficult to ensure that data is truly anonymous.
In the past, even Netflix has struggled with this. Netflix revealed insufficiently anonymous information about nearly 500,000 customers in 2006. Several researchers were able to re-identify users during Netflix’s $1 million contest to improve its recommendation system. It clearly violated users’ privacy by fully disclosing, for example, their sexual orientation (https://www.chino.io). The lawsuit ended with more than $2,500 in damages for each of more than 2 million Netflix customers. Netflix paid $9 Million to settle the lawsuit.
What are your options?
So, if you’re an indie app developer, what are your options.
You could attempt to make sure your user behavior metrics follow all the data compliance like GPDR guidelines. However, over time and with each additional feature and update, the chances of breaching them get higher, and conforming to them gets exponentially harder.
A simpler solution would be to work with a partner that specializes in capturing user behavior data and metrics that have meaningful significance for monetization.
They can provide tools to collect information and present you with actionable insights. This can take the nitty-gritty of handling privacy off your plate. This leaves you with more time to focus on core app functionality.
The balance between user experience and user privacy is one that app developers have to learn to handle if they hope to make it to the top of the play/ app store. A partner you can trust to handle the data collection and provide you with critical user behavior metrics is the key to finding this balance.