iphone home screen Over the past few weeks there have been several news stories about the ways in which mobile device apps can, and do, infringe on the privacy of users. The news pretty much broke when it was discovered that the social app, Path, was copying user address books without notifying users of that. Since the Path news came to light, people have discovered that that app was, and is, not the only app copying user information without notice.

As the Washington Post noted in their article on the FTC report regarding privacy, apps, and children the landscape in the area of apps and privacy is something like the digital wild west. It’s all new territory and developers and users are learning what works and doesn’t work and how to marry safety and privacy with business. Many of us are now at least a bit savvy about user privacy in a web-based social media world. A world in which Facebook changes its privacy features on what seems like a weekly basis and Google is making changes to their privacy policy on March 1. Now is the time to become savvy about privacy in a mobile device/app world and to have conversations with teens about how they stay safe in these environments. A good way to get started is to:

  • Read the articles linked above to become familiar with the issues and also take a look at this short slideshow, from Larry Magid of SafeKids.com, about ways to make sure your privacy is protected in the app world.
  • Start talking with teens about the apps they use and how they can guarantee that when they use them their privacy is protected. Brainstorm ways that they can check-out how an app does and doesn’t use personal information. Perhaps setup a project in which teens do some research in order to find out what apps have the best privacy track record and which are lacking.
  • Become familiar with apps. If you haven’t used apps on a smartphone or tablet make sure you spend some time doing just that. Ask friends, teens, or colleagues if you can take a look on their devices if you don’t have one yourself. The only way to really be informed is to have some first-hand experience. A great way to find out what apps are worth checking out is via the YALSA App of the Week column on this blog.
  • Don’t assume that because of these breaches that all apps are bad and people should just stop using them. That’s not true, all apps aren’t bad. And, people aren’t just going to stop using them. Apps provide a great deal of useful tools and information to children, teens, and adults. We all just have to get really smart about what’s going on behind the scenes. In his New York Times article Nick Bilton gets to this point very well when he states, “The argument that if consumers care about their privacy they shouldn’t use these technologies is a cop-out. This technology is now completely woven into every part of society and business. We didn’t tell people who wanted safer cars simply not to drive. We made safer cars.”

Now is the time to gain the skills and knowledge needed to be safe and smart in the app world. Go out and get them now, and help the teens with whom you work get them too.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President and the Youth and Family Learning Manager at the Seattle Public Library.

2 Thoughts on “Privacy in the App World: Learn About It Now

  1. Jacqui Milliern on February 21, 2012 at 6:47 pm said:

    Excellent topic. I will be linking to the Washington Post article on my library’s Facebook page. I need to view the SafeKids.com video first, but I’m thinking it’s ripe for the library’s Pinterest. Thanks for bringing this information together.

  2. Kate Covintree on February 24, 2012 at 12:24 pm said:

    Not really related, but who’s iPhone screen is that where all the apps are organized by alphabet? Impressive!

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