Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Giving Up Privacy For Convenience - Without Even Knowing It???

Everyone would be terrified if they knew someone was tracking their every step, watching their every location, seeing where they live, knowing which doctors they go to, influencing what they buy, and doing it all while being invisible to you. If you use a cell phone, the odds are that this is happening to you right now. In fact, they know you are reading this blog post. Now, imagine if this person was someone who was looking out for your best interest - finding ways to show you products that are cheaper somewhere else, highlighting movies that you would find most enjoyable, telling you when your friends are nearby, alerting you to nearby restaurants you would like - because after all, this person may know you better than you even know yourself. How willing are you to give up privacy for convenience?  Call it ignorance or convenience, millions of people are opting for less privacy in return for greater convenience. In fact, it is estimated that 490 million people will use their phone to make mobile payments by 2014 (Portio Research: www.portioresearch.com/Mob_payments10-14.html).
What is it?

Mobile Analytics by definition is the use of data collected as visitors access a website, use an app, or travel from a mobile phone. The data collected usually includes page views, visits, visitors, and countries, as well as information specific to mobile devices, such as device model, manufacturer, service provider, etc. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_web_analytics). Cell phone manufacturers can also use technology to enable tracking for mobile applications on smart phones. The data collection by vendors is embedded deep into the mobile application itself, and as such, the vendors can collect and provide detailed usage data and tie it to unique users. They can obtain the location, device name, how long it is used, the number of active users, and so on (Web Analytics 2.0, p.253).
How do they do it?

Most of us are familiar with the traditional web analytics concept. If you are unfamiliar with it, go to Amazon.com and see which products are shown on the bottom of the page. They will most likely show you similar products to what you have purchased or looked at in the past. For traditional web analytics, companies are able to assign "cookies" or "unique trackers" in order to identify and track the activity of each unique visitor. Unfortunately, mobile phones can't use the same process due to problems with identifying unique individuals and tracking.
There is no accepted standard for cookies being turned on or off with mobile analytics, so many companies have been using proprietary fingerprint algorithms or storing personal indentifying information to track unique visitors. This starts to infringe upon the privacy rights of individuals and it is a grey area that is being heavily debated in Washington right now. See the question below regarding technologies that are available in mobile analytics for additional information.

Who does it to us?
There are many companies that are heavily involved in the mobile analytics business. Google, Amazon, Ebay, and Apple are all heavily investing in mobile analytics. But more often than not, companies will rely on existing companies that focus exclusively on providing mobile analytic services to them. Some of the companies that provide these services include Flurry, Localytics, Pinch Media, Percent Mobile, and Carrier IQ. This is a very popular area of advertising, technology, and sales, and as such, there are many competitors in the industry.

Which technologies are present within/related to mobile analytics?
Most of the technology used for mobile analytics is through software. Some of the software is specific to individual websites, whereas other software is specific to individual phones. Carrie IQ, for example, has the ability to record nearly every action you perform on your mobile phone. It is installed on over 140 million devices and keeps private the exact information it sends its clients (Sprint, HTC, etc.) (http://www.engadget.com/2011/12/01/carrier-iq-what-it-is-what-it-isnt-and-what-you-need-to/).

Analytics companies have had to create new technology in order to track and collect the user data since the traditional cookie and IP address tracking doesn't work on mobile phones. Some of the solutions include: packet sniffing (uses a tap between the mobile user and the web server), image tags or beacons (user must use a unique image), link redirection (click on link to enter or leave a site), and WAP gateway traffic logs (website logs of user information) ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_web_analytics). Recently, a cutting edge technology has been from application developers who have been able to gather statistics of demographics, gender, and location, but are running into privacy issues with certain mobile providers.
In short, there are more standard software programs that track and record key performance indicators, and then there are software programs that are more cutting edge that have the ability to track your every move. The latter may be more beneficial from a marketing and sales perspective, but also more intrusive and potentially illegal from a privacy perspective.

What are individuals' and / or organizations' strategies and tactics around mobile analytics?
There is one overarching strategy for companies using mobile analytics - increase sales. By using mobile analytics to personalize and customize offers, 75% of retailers reported a rise in customer demand (LOUDHOUSE, 2012). Yes, it is about the money. Also, 67% of shoppers have cited a better experience in store using mobile technologies (Motorola Solutions Annual Holiday Survey, 2011).

What are some good resources for one to learn more about mobile analytics moving forward?
For individuals wanting to learn more about mobile analytics, one should: 1) visit http://www.google.com/analytics/features/mobile.html, 2) visit http://webtrends.com/solutions/digital-measurement/multichannel-measurement, 3) subscribe to the Beyond Web Analytics! podcast in iTunes, 4) attend The Smart Travel Analytics Show in New York, and 5) obtain the Google Analytics Certified Partner (GACP) designation through Google Analytics

Are there any potential risks for companies who use mobile analytics?
Yes, there are some potential risks for app developers and companies looking to capture our every move and purchase. In fact, Senator Al Franken has been working on a locational privacy protection bill that would require app developers to request permission to obtain your location before recording and tracking it. The bill would also require mobile services to reveal the advertising networks and other third parties with which they share consumers' locations (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/technology/legislation-would-regulate-tracking-of-cellphone-users.html?_r=0). Interestingly enough, last January the Supreme Court ruled that the government had violated the Fourth Amendment by putting a GPS tracker on a suspect's car without first getting a warrant (United States v. Jones). Nonetheless, there are still numerous applications and technologies in our cell phones that are tracking our every movement via GPS with advertising companies and third party businesses paying top dollar to obtain that info. Given that the average age for an individual to receive his/her first cell phone is 11.6 years old, many of our children are those being targeted through mobile analytics. Nonetheless, only 5.5% of parents have discussed privacy issues with their children. See charts below for reference (http://www.smartphoneparenting.com/survey-results.html). Convenient or a cause for concern?
Question 3Question 1


  1. Good write up. Your intro regarding privacy and convenience is well stated.

  2. Thanks! Very interesting topic! I liked the part you mentioned about the Supreme court ruling. This is a interesting debate about how if my land line gets tapped without my permission or if a GPS tracker is installed on my car without my permission it is explicitly illegal. Recording phone conversations, reading text messages and building a detailed diary of someones GPS location throughout their day & over the year however IS legal. Your mention of Carrier IQ was very helpful also.