The flood gates have opened and mobile innovation is at a point where it seems to change and advance daily. It’s no surprise that even the savviest mobile users are feeling overwhelmed by an infinite variety of privacy settings. The idea that certain media monarchies now have a direct, mobile link to you and your life has been a hot topic of concern lately – but smartphone sales, app downloads, and GPS assisted search numbers continue to rise. Which begs the question… do we really care about privacy?

Ignorance is Bliss?Image

A recent mobile consumer survey by TRUSTe revealed that only 4 in 10 mobile application users even take the time to read and understand the application (App) disclosures before installing . In fact, nearly 50% of users said they haven’t even read a privacy policy to date. This same study showed that 5 out of 10 consumers would in fact be willing to share some personal information in exchange for a free or lower cost mobile application.

By no means is this data being used to suggest that privacy isn’t an important issue. It most certainly is. The point is, the lack of mobile privacy policies and standards to date have not deterred the mobile user. Why? To me the answer is simple. In this era of “Need It Now” media consumption – the increased speed and accuracy of information provided by mobile sites and applications seem to out-weighs the very real risk of having personal information shared or used by the media powers that be.

What you don’t know can hurt you.

The current lack of clear privacy regulation has led to the early stages of consumer outcry, and found certain media giants in hot water with the U.S. government. In November of this past year, Facebook settled a privacy dispute that now requires them to ask permission of their user before changing the way their personal information is released. This settlement stems from changes Facebook made back in December 2009 that made profile factoids including name, gender, images and friends list publicly visible by default.

Just last month Google admitted to bypassing the browser settings of millions of iPhone and Mac users by adding a tracking code to display advertisements. This code tricks Apple browser Safari into letting Google track their Web-browsing habits – a capability that is usually blocked by default in Safari, the most widely used mobile browser.

Your Privacy. Whose Responsibility?

The need for clear and proactive communication regarding mobile privacy policies and standards is an important topic. So much so that certain lawmakers have taken a stance in the hope of affecting widespread policy. In late-February, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris held a meeting with executives from Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Search in Motion, in which all parties present agreed to require app developers listing with them to include a privacy policy. While this “agreement” is only in good faith at the moment, it’s a step toward greater awareness.

Regardless of the laws in place, the industry has a responsibility to proactively and consistently educate consumers on the importance of safeguarding their personal information when using their mobile device. Doing so before lawmakers step in will give the industry the freedom to continue its growth while building trust with consumers that their personal information will be protected. In fact, history has shown that the more educated consumers are regarding what data is being shared and for what purposes — the more likely they are to share certain personal information in exchange for a more relevant search experience.

Onward and Upward

Regardless of the pundits and panels, current privacy concerns are no obstacle in mobile’s continued growth. But as the sheer quantity of data being produced and shared continues its insatiable climb, so grows the need for increased privacy and security measures. Both consumers and advertisers need to understand that the same privacy rules that applied online do not necessarily apply to mobile. Building off the history of privacy and security practices forced upon the web, mobile has the opportunity to take proactive measure in creating consistent guidelines and safeguards that will allow the industry to continue along its trajectory while gaining consumer trust. A trust that is necessary to ensure that certain data points continue to be shared and used by mobile applications in providing the most relevant mobile experience.