Mobile Marketers: Stricter App Permissions Are a Good Thing

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There are many challenges we face in mobile digital marketing: technological, organizational, strategic, and financial. As an industry, there is one thing that we cannot afford to do and that is to make our jobs any more difficult.  

For years, my company and I have worked side by side with digital marketing executives, generating unique three-dimensional insights about their individual customers and their overall customer base that they can then leverage for better engagement and personalization. We have heard firsthand from dozens of the marketers we encounter who are frustrated by the incessant stream of new privacy regulations and policies regarding the handling of users’ personal data. 

When it comes to mobile apps, the requirements implemented by Apple and Google to obtain user permission to collect a variety of personal data types create the biggest headaches. These restrictions, marketers complain, get in the way of providing the type of personalized experiences that customers expect and demand. 

It is time for all of us to look ourselves in the mirror and recognize the inconvenient truth of digital mobile marketing: stricter app permissions are necessary for the long-term success of our industry.

Why stricter app permissions are good for mobile marketing

Providing a user experience customized to the personal preferences, behavior, and circumstances of every mobile user is not only the holy grail of marketing, it is also the fantasy of many consumers. The digital marketing stack is so advanced now that if the technology is not reined in, we can collect petabytes of data about our customers each week — much more data than they could possibly imagine.

Let’s face it: the guardrails are necessary, and they’ve been a long time coming. We should welcome them as they drive us to develop solutions that deliver better personalization with complete data privacy. More importantly, looking forward, these higher privacy standards will be even more desperately needed.

A recent case that made the news perfectly illustrates this point. The story concerns an app that is marketed to parents concerned with the welfare of their families; it allows loved ones to keep track of each other’s whereabouts and automatically detect harmful events such as phone loss, accidents, and more. To do all this, the app collects a flood of location (and activity) data, which the app has promptly sold to third parties, making them a leading source of raw location data.

To be fair, the data is obtained legitimately; the app had to request and receive, as we all do, permission to collect users’ location data at all times (as well as a slew of additional sensitive personal data). On the other hand, it takes a very cynical mind to imagine that the app that is intended to help increase the safety of parents’ children is actually sharing their whereabouts with anyone willing to pay for them. Even more surprising is that the app offered a variety of paid membership plans, so families were actually paying for the privilege of having their location data passed around.

This is not an isolated case and, as an industry, we have to recognize that this type of practice jeopardizes all of our efforts. Obviously, businesses are meant to generate revenue, but selling the personal data entrusted to us by users for a specific purpose is a betrayal of trust from which we will all suffer. 

Why marketers, too, benefit from privacy standards

Establishing and nurturing customer relationships is time-consuming and expensive enough without having to overcome the distrust and suspicions to which cynical practices give rise. We don’t have to think back too far to recall the backlash after Facebook’s mishaps with personal data.

When users grant us access to their phones, they give us 24/7 access to their lives. That requires trust. When one company abuses that trust, it casts suspicion on us all. So, we should welcome guidelines that help foster transparency between companies and consumers. When we work to gain users’ trust, we can make reasonable requests for permission. Once consumers trust us, they will grant it. 

As companies consider the dawning opportunities of the metaverse, they will need to take even more care with their approach to data. With users increasing the range of activities they engage in across the digital realm, the trail of data they leave behind will grow correspondingly. Unethical data practices in the metaverse will backfire on companies in the real world.

Mobile app data permissions are not the problem; they are a somewhat clumsy attempt at a solution. The solution lies in practices that require fewer permissions, apply true personalization, deliver a better user experience, and provide more comprehensive data safety. Let’s do that.

Sefy Ariely is head of marketing at Anagog, a Street Fight Thought Leader. Meet Anagog at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.