Last week we brought you our first installment of Tech Talks Back, where HTC’s senior manager of global products JB McRee discussed his inspiration and how he ended up in the business. This week, we present an opinion piece written by NQ Mobile’s chief product officer. Prior to joining NQ Mobile, Gavin also served as the general manager for Windows Phone product marketing at Microsoft, and as the vice president of content, services and enterprise business with Samsung.
A little background on Tech Talks Back: this is a new series where we reach out to leaders in the industry to hear their opinions on what’s happening around us. We’re here to discuss the news every day, but sometimes it’s important to hear it from the source – from ground zero. Without further ado, we present the following opinion piece written by Gavin Kim.
Last month’s release of Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail received a lot of buzz, and the loudest wasn’t about the music itself. The hip hop legend’s promotion with Samsung was brilliantly conceived, and, technical-issue fallout aside, it represents a move we expect to see many accomplished artists making in the future. With the growing importance of mobile devices to the entertainment industry, this should be a surprise to no one.
In the case of the Jay Z app, however, there was one thing that came as a bit of a surprise: people got upset about the app’s permissions. Former Jay Z collaborator Emcee Killer Mike issued a polite – and widely disseminated – dismissal of the app via Twitter. Multiple tech blogs reported that the app was being delivered via Android spyware. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) advocacy group even asked the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate. But ultimately, these issues are really non-issues, as Samsung and Jay Z operated completely above the board.
On the other hand, I think this is a conversation that’s time has come.
As current Chief Product and Commercial Officer of NQ Mobile, a developer of apps including those for privacy and security, and a former Vice President of Content and Services for Samsung, it’s a conversation I feel I’m qualified to initiate.
The amount of information that we, as everyday consumers, give away on a regular basis is astounding.
In fact, in this age where we all expect to get more for less, data has become a veritable currency that we give in exchange for goods and services. The Magna Carta app represents this kind of value exchange. Consumers who downloaded the app were presented with the option to give information, and in return, receive a free album. If they elected to no share permissions for this access, they simply would need to get the album elsewhere.
It’s easy to make subjective judgments about right or wrong, appropriate or excessive. But objectively, this is a matter of consent. In short, it’s not invading your privacy if you give them permission to take your information. Jay Z’s app is quite simply not spyware. It is an app that collects data. The user is aware of this, and has granted permission. Everything about the transaction follows current best practices.
Now, the ado around the app signals something else: adhering to app marketplace best practice policies is no longer enough. We, as an industry, have to be more proactive about establishing “better practices” that go beyond what’s required in order to earn the waning consumer trust and confidence that is demonstrated by the Magna Carta debacle.
From a developer perspective, user permissions are easy enough to get that the temptation is to take carte blanche with permissions and data collection. It’s as if developers know consumers will blindly accept, so they request permissions to everything available on the device – call logs, GPS information, SMS, camera, contact lists, images, etc. Why not. Do consumers really pay attention? Do they care? Or maybe there is actually a legitimate reason. The important question though is, shouldn’t end users know what they are giving away, and more importantly why a developer is asking for it? And that’s what I’m driving at. Permissions are seemingly explicit, at least when dealing with legitimate apps and established marketplaces. What I am advocating is adding another layer of transparency. Instead of just disclosing what is accessed, let’s add an explanation of why.
It’s really a very simple proposition, and one that most developers can support conceivably incredibly quickly. It’s also one that could very well be preventative – not just to turnaround a trend of diminishing consumer trust, but also to curtail potential government involvement – and to try and make things easier for all of us, whether you are the size of Google or two developers in a garage.