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Consumers getting cagier about mobile app privacy

Finally, some good news for RIM

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Mobile users are getting a lot smarter about what they are willing to share with application developers, with over half deciding against downloading an app because of the information it sought to harvest.

The latest research conducted by the Pew Internet Project surveyed over 2,500 US cell and smartphone users, and found that 43 per cent of mobile phone owners are downloading and using applications on a regular basis, up from 31 per cent last year.

But that growing tribe of mobile app users is more discriminating about which apps they use: 54 per cent refused new apps over privacy concerns, and three out of ten have removed installed applications because of the data they grab.

"Outside of some modest demographic differences, app users of all stripes are equally engaged in these aspects of personal information management," the research finds. "Owners of both Android and iPhone devices are also equally likely to delete (or avoid entirely) cell phone apps due to concerns over their personal information."

This cautiousness differs sharply by age. Around 44 per cent of teenager cell phone users flush out their history cache once in a while, compared to just 11 per cent of the over-65s. Similarly, a third of cell phone owners in their 20s turn off location-based applications, compared to 4 per cent of those old enough to be eligible for Medicare.

Smartphone users are generally more protective of their personal data and the applications it is shared with. Half of them clear their browser history, compared to a third of cell phone users, and they're around a third more likely to turn off location-tracking apps. Six out of ten smartphone users back up their data, double that of cell phone users.

Despite being more hands-on with their phones, smartphone users are twice as likely than cell phone holders to report having had their privacy breached. When it comes to getting phones lost and stolen, there's little difference between smart and cell phone users, with around a third reporting at least one incident.

There was some unexpected good news for RIM buried in Pew's data: BlackBerry users are by far the most likely to report a handset lost or stolen – 45 per cent compared to 36 per cent of Android owners and 30 per cent of iPhone adherents – but only 4 per cent reported losing any personal data. By contrast 16 per cent of iPhone and 17 per cent of Android users had their data accessed in the same situation.

This is good news for RIM's security reputation, and the lost or stolen stats should also please the Canadians' sales department. After all, having a higher percentage of forgetful or unlucky users might allow the company to shift a lot more handsets when the new BlackBerry 10 operating system finally makes it to market next year. ®

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