Has App Privacy Gone Too Far?

by Sam Barillaro. 0 Comments

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine about technology and the impact it’s had on our privacy. He shared his concern about the way people are sharing almost everything about themselves on the web with little concern. I could sense he was looking to me for a counter argument.

There are plenty of ways technology can benefit us without the need to divulge all our secrets. However, there are cases where the more information you share about yourself, the more useful technology can be to you. This is a trade off we make and it should always be up to us what information we’re willing to share.

About two years ago, Apple came under fire for allowing apps to have access to your photo library without your permission. Apple took some steps to make things more secure. When you open an app that requires access to your photos, you are asked to give it permission to do so. Problem solved? Not quite.

Microphone Permission iOS 7

When this change was implemented, I had a number of people ask me why they couldn’t post photos to Facebook from their iPhone app. Most people’s first instinct when seeing the permission pop-up is to decline, usually without reading the message. Now you have a crippled user experience. You are voluntarily trying to post a photo to Facebook, but instead you get an error message. A message that still doesn’t make it obvious to users why.

Android App Permissions

With the introduction of iOS 7 came yet another privacy notification. This time it was for apps that require access to the microphone. Now lets say you want to make a Skype call on your iPhone. If you didn’t read the notification and instinctively pressed “Don’t Allow”, the Skype app is effectively useless.

For better or worse, this is how Apple deals with app privacy. They are merely appearing to protect your privacy at the expense of user experience. When you give an app permission to access your photos or use your microphone, they are able to do the same things they could before you were required to give them permission, only this time Apple has shirked their responsibility. What you’re really doing now is giving the app permission to work the way it’s supposed to.

The Google Play store on the other hand will show a notification during the installation process that shows you all the permissions an app requires. You can’t install an app unless you accept the permissions. This solution may not be perfect as it doesn’t allow you to choose which permissions to accept (you have to accept all or nothing), but at least the user won’t be stuck with an app they can’t use.