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Despite hot-and-getting-hotter demand within the information and marketing industries for mobile business models, tools, and products, there’s a remarkable lack of clarity about what the term “mobile” actually describes. Anyone with a laptop and wireless connection or data card has had remote-computing access for years. E-content delivery by handheld phone is nothing new. Companies like eBooks.com and Nokia have offered this option, via MobiPocket formats, for five years or more.

So, what’s the game-changer here?

As Mitch Joel says in his Six Pixels of Separation blog:

We have to give up on the idea that there’s a difference between being “online” and what we’re experiencing on our mobile devices …. These are no longer phones …. These are computers. Just like that thing on your desk or that laptop you schlep around. . . . Mobile and Online are not separate things. They’re the same thing, we’re just not comfortable with the pace of change.

What everyone is excited about, actually, is the nearly ubiquitous nature of global wireless access via transportable devices — including but not limited to Kindles, iPhones, Andriods, and iPads — and the fact that we have experienced a paradigm shift in users’ commercial expectations and requirements.

My two-year-old isn’t unique in his ability to scroll through iPhone apps, photos, and games. He routinely consumes instructional games and video this way and expects me to be able to read “Frog and Toad” to him on my Kindle. He knows the difference between an iPhone and a BlackBerry but doesn’t know that television was ever not available “on-demand.”

What customers in all business areas increasingly require is customized, immediate information, which often involves transparency about  personal information of one sort or another.

Privacy concerns can be raised in many settings, but often they are ultimately trumped and compromised by some pressing need or wish.

When I’m stuck in traffic and am dying to know how to get out, I’m more than game for enabling geolocation.

I can even hope others will drop their privacy screens.

If I’ve been trying to corner this lobbyist or congresswoman for weeks, I want to know immediately when she comes into the Starbucks down the street.

If I’m itching to try that no-reservations restaurant, I want to log in to see the real-time video showing who’s there and what the line looks like.

One may eschew Twitter or Buzz strictly as navel-gazing technologies, but there are very real business utilities that can be derived from them — especially given the newly more diverse options for immediate access via any combination of devices.

If you are still wondering whether all of this stuff is grounded, Brian Solis brings us home with a rundown of the imminently practical business marketing applications for Twitter on his blog, Marketing Moxie. There’s probably at least one new-fangled iteration of an old-school marketing task on the list that you’ll be happy to use.

In the scholarly realm, mobility has transformed certain types of research data collection. It is increasingly possible — and expected — that researchers will poll a much larger and geographically dispersed subject pool to collect real-time data sets.

For example, if I am a pharmaceutical researcher and wish to efficiently gather data from a sample group in a medication trial, I can create an app that will ping individuals in my study group on a timed basis with quick-response questions for them to answer. I can reach a massive group simultaneously, without geographic restriction. I can reduce errors that would otherwise result from recall or revision. I can also be alerted, at headquarters, if one of my group has failed to respond.

Creepy and Orwellian? Of course. But, there’s no hiding under a rock, baby. It’s improbable to imagine that the Pandora’s Box of privacy will close any time soon, especially when small pieces of privacy are so easily traded for information.

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8 Thoughts on "Mobile Devices and Privacy — Why It’s So Easy to Swap Personal Information to Satisfy an Itch"

I’ll offer a counterpoint with this quote from Banksy, the well-known but anonymous street artist:

“I don’t know why people are so keen to put the details of their private life in public; they forget that invisibility is a superpower.”

While I’m sure you’d like to corner and pester that Congresswoman, I’m willing to bet she doesn’t want to be tracked, cornered and pestered. I have a close friend who had a difficult period in her life involving a stalker. There’s no way she’s ever going to willingly disclose personal information or location online.

Which is why I suggested earlier that privacy is the new luxury. I know I’d pay extra for a service that promised to protect my personal information, to not sell me out to anyone willing to pay. Just as there is business opportunity in offering up your users to the highest bidder, there’s a much less unsavory business opportunity in protecting them. Those who can afford it will opt out of being tracked, those who can’t (or for whom it doesn’t matter) will go for the cheaper user-data funded version of services.

As David alludes to above, there’s really nothing new about people trading personal information for something of value. On any trip to a college campus in the past decade you will have seen people lined up applying for credit cards or pay-as-you-go mobile phones in exchange for a T-shirt. Facebook brought that model onto the web with the shockingly intrusive “app” model used by Zynga, the makers of Farmville. The average user is unaware and entirely willing to give this information up. Fireeagle, Yahoo’s years-old effort with finely granular privacy controls, is being overtaken by the simple and wide-open Foursquare and Twitter geolocation services.

All a service provider can do at this point is “not be evil” with the power given to them by the hordes of unsuspecting users. Consider it a responsibility and hope that the specific aspect of sharing that eventually hurts a congressman’s daughter isn’t the thing you built your business on.

The problem with trusting a provider is that nearly everyone’s terms of service includes a clause that allows the terms to change at any time. So while your trusted and non-evil provider may be taking good care of you today, if they hit on hard times or get bought out by someone not so non-evil, all your data and activity on the site suddenly become fair game for exploitation.

Alix –

Another thing I find interesting is the mention of television on demand. I was buying ABC shows I missed on iTunes before the ABC iPad app (which rocks) came out – another dissolution between online, broadcast, and mobile.

On another note – the conversations about privacy above are quite interesting. Personally, I do share different things in different networks and to date have found this only useful. I’m sure there will be a day I regret something but currently my decisions about what I share are working for me. Isn’t that the point. Participate, but know what you’re doing. Learn the mediums and do what you feel will work for you. The fact that excessive sharing is possible doesn’t mean you need to do it. I’m not talking about privacy settings. I’m talking about only posting what you don’t mind getting out and honing your skills to know the difference.

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