Privacy and security features aimed at giving consumers more control over sharing their data via smartphone apps are widely misunderstood, according to new research from the University of Bath’s School of Management.
Forty-three percent of the phone users in the study were confused or unclear about what app tracking meant. People usually mistake the purpose of tracking, thinking that it is an integral part of the app’s functionality, or that it will provide a better user experience.
Companies use tracking apps to deliver targeted ads to smartphone users.
When iPhone users open an app for the first time, a popup asks if they want to allow the app company to track their activity across other apps. They can choose to either “Request Do Not Track App” or “Allow,” as introduced by Apple’s App Tracking Transparency Framework in April 2021. Android users must access tracking consent via their phone settings.
If people opt out of tracking, the company cannot track their use of apps and websites on their devices, and the data cannot be used for targeted advertising or shared with data brokers.
The most common error (24 per cent) was that tracking referred to sharing a device’s physical location — rather than tracking app and website usage. People thought they needed to accept tracking and collection for food delivery services, like Deliveroo, or for health and fitness apps, because they believed their location was integral to the app’s functioning.
While just over half (51 per cent) of participants said they were concerned about privacy or security — including the security of their data after it was collected — the analysis showed no association between their concern for privacy in their daily lives and a lower rate of acceptance of tracking.
“We asked people about their privacy concerns and expected to see people concerned about protecting their privacy allowing fewer apps to track their data, but this has not been the case,” said Hannah Hutton, postgraduate researcher from University College Bath, University of Bath. administration. “There was a huge misunderstanding about what app tracking meant. People generally thought they needed to allow tracking for the app to work properly.
The confusion is likely caused by a lack of clarity in the wording companies choose in tracking claims, which can easily be misinterpreted. For example, when ASOS said “we will use your data to give you a more personalized ASOS experience and to make our app even cooler” it’s probably not surprising. For people to think they chose additional functionality rather than just more relevant ads.”
Although the main text of the application tracking consent request is standardized, application developers can include a sentence explaining why they are requesting tracking permission, and this can open the door to false or misleading information, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Other misconceptions included the belief that consenting to share health apps (such as period tracking apps) could mean sharing private data, or that refusing to track would remove ads from the app.
the study, Exploring user motivations behind iOS app tracking transparency decisions, It was published in Proceedings of the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems and presented at the CHI23 Conference in Hamburg, Germany (April 23-28). It is believed to be the first academic analysis of the decisions people make when faced with tracking requests.
Researchers collected data on the tracking decisions of 312 study participants (aged 18 to 75) and analyzed their reasons for allowing or denying tracking across a range of apps, including social media, shopping, health and food delivery.
David Ellis, professor of behavioral sciences and co-author, added: “This research further reveals how most consumers are unaware of how their digital data is being used. Millions of us every day share information with technology companies and while some of this data is necessary for these services to function properly, other data allows them to Generates money from advertising revenue.For example, Meta has predicted that it will lose $10 billion from people who refuse to track.
“While people are now aware of the benefits of having PINs and facial recognition to protect our devices, more work needs to be done so that people can make transparent decisions about other data usage in the digital age.”