Monday, December 19, 2011


Waves of articles about the embedding of the Carrier IQ quality of service agent in phones in the past few weeks have captured the attention of media and mobile phone users.  It's raises the topic of privacy and the importance of clear disclosure to end users.  Because the bottom line is this: if the phones visually notify the end users of what data they were capturing, what they are going to use the data for, and how the end user can opt-out of such measurement, this is a non-issue.  These 3 privacy commandments are critical not just for market research but for any mobile and internet startup, as well.

Now, in the case of CIQ, this all may have been done, in all cases.  From the press articles, it seems that there may have been some breakdowns between all the parties responsible for delivering the end solution.  Given that the situation has attracted the attention of Senator Franken, and the Senator still does not seem to have received all responses or seem to be happy with those he received, there will likely be more disclosures to the public to understand more.

The commandments sound simple enough, but its amazing how the smallest and the largest companies don't do justice to them.  I have met with startups who gloss over this when we discuss privacy, and when companies are small, they want to focus on building the framework of their business, expecting to plumb the details when money is flowing in.  Fair enough, but the early investment likely does not cost much, if anything, and the importance of embedding the edicts of user privacy are important to seed early and often.  Large companies often do everything legally required, but often embed disclosures and  how to opt-out in the middle of much larger, user agreements that no one ever reads.

The reality is that most users are willing to make the trade-off.  Given clear and definable value, they will let you use their information for benefit and profit.  Actually, being very up-front and transparent about privacy and data usage helps users gain more confidence in companies.  Thinking about opt-outs, data storage and removal, and breaches up front and early is infinitely cheaper early on.

Tell the user up-front and right away what data you want to use and why, make it clear and easy to opt-out, and if you give a service of value, they will give you invaluable access and demographic information.  Win-win.

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