How to strike the right balance between UX and data privacy

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The mobile industry is at a crossroads as OS and app developers struggle to find the perfect balance between UX and data privacy. Recently, public awareness has been on the rise in the dark side of the “information age”. for example, Social confusion It was the second most watched documentary on Netflix, with 38 million viewers on the streaming platform by the end of the first month. Increasing public awareness and focusing on the darker side makes it easier to lose the benefits of processing user data.

Data continues the mobile ecosystem

It is no exaggeration to say that data keeps the mobile ecosystem rolling. Device features such as Siri or inferred text use machine-learning algorithms to better predict user needs. Mobile apps process user data in the interest of improving the application experience by personalizing features and content. For example, a travel app whose users have booked hotels in Florence, Rome and Naples can divide them into groups that receive push notifications offering discounted rates for hotels on the Amalfi Coast. Or a news app that takes advantage of its users’ data for an adaptive scheduling algorithm that determines the time of day when they don’t want to receive alerts (e.g., midnight, or during the working day).

Processing user data can also be integral to the utility of a feature, such as weather or traffic applications that provide real-time updates to advise users on what steps to take to stay safe on the road. Or, for a more precise example, the Pokémon GO app tracks users’ geolocation data so they can hunt Pokemon, fight other trainers, and participate in raids in augmented reality displayed on the real world. The whole concept of the game is shattered if users withhold their data.

Most device users will agree that the above use cases for data are acceptable, and even preferable, for a non-personal application experience. However, when applications and websites send user data to third-party advertisers without the user’s permission, they enter the unethical realm. So, where is the happy medium? Should we sacrifice the use of free apps that give us an experience tailored to our preferences so that we can sit on the growing crowd of personal data that does not benefit anyone?

Where is the line about what data can be used? Or who has access to it?

Shift away from cloud processing

Maybe what or who instead, we really should check how Our data is processed. And to do that, it’s worth looking at what the mobile industry leaders – Apple and Google – are doing with their latest mobile operating system.

In September 2021, Apple’s iOS15 went live, and it had some exciting changes in the field of data privacy. Many of their new features reflect the shift to Apple, which seeks to make the iPhone less aggressive and designed to keep user data private – even from Apple. Building on the controversial app tracking transparency released with iOS 14.5, which means users had to get users’ consent before tracking their IDFA to send apps to advertisers, Apple’s latest features take transparency and data minimization to the next level.

A new intelligent tracking prevention feature on Apple’s Safari browser combines machine learning with device-side processing to hide your IP address from trackers. “Device-side” in this case means that all data processing for this feature is done locally, only on the mobile device, the OS transmits your data to the Apple cloud server. Not only does this mean that your data remains 100% private – even from Apple – but by processing the device into a cloud server with trillions of other data points instead, the vulnerability of your data as a hacking target is greatly reduced.

What’s more, because intelligent tracking prevention data is processed locally, Apple users retain full ownership and access to their data. They can view their privacy report of all cross-site trackers blocking Intelligent Tracking Prevention in the Safari browser sidebar.

Apple has moved device-side to other data processing features, including face recognition. And Siri processes voice commands and Siri instructions completely on the device, without sending any personal information to Apple’s servers.

Google Announces Privacy Sandbox for Android

Likewise, perhaps seeing the shift towards device-side as Apple industry’s belvedere, Google plans to extend the privacy sandbox to Android operating systems, eventually. Privacy Sandbox already implements device-side processing for Chrome web browsers: Google’s Federated Cohort of Learning (FLoC) function replaces traditional third-party browser cookies by recording users’ browser history 100% on-device.

Advertisers then receive information about the web activity of groups of anonymous users, but they have no access to user data, which resides securely on their devices. In this way, it protects the privacy of both users while providing data that is 95% accurate for advertisers as much as they received with cookies.

Privacy Sandbox will not be active on Android until 2024. However, the fact that they have some features that process the data on the device shows a marked trend in this direction. And while their plans are still unclear, they’ve mapped out some key pillars of their Android privacy sandbox going forward.

Specifically, an algorithm that categorizes users into topics based on what applications they use will occur entirely on the device. Applications and advertisers can then view this group of users to be informed of decisions about which ads to send. Additionally, because it all happens on the device, users can access and personalize their topics in their device settings.

FLEDGE is another function in which applications define “custom audiences” for ads based on users’ behavioral data in the application. This data, as well as the ads themselves, are stored locally on the device, meaning that businesses may continue to target their existing customers for marketing, but no third-party will be able to access any identifiable data.

Proceed: Is there a device-side answer?

The mobile privacy features of both Apple and Google are very much in flux, and more adjustments are likely to be on the horizon. However, the trend seems to be that user data is increasingly being stored and processed device-side.

The device-side process not only enables user data to be placed for good purpose – without opening it for unethical or unwanted access from third parties – but it also promotes a relationship of trust and confidence between mobile devices, applications and their users. Processing user data on the device means a high level of transparency, in which users retain ownership and agency over their own private information.

While advertisers may be less than happy to compromise, the move toward the mobile industry that prioritizes personal privacy and data ownership is positive overall. What’s more, device-side processing has a wide range of benefits for mobile applications – including a more efficient and streamlined computing process, as data no longer needs to be transferred to an external server for processing and access to a more complete suite of metrics. The fact is that it solves the pain points of data privacy.

With the devices, applications, and users all benefiting, it’s worth looking at the mobile industry over the next few years to see how changes to device-side computing will transform it.

David Shackleton is the CEO of Openback.


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