Mobile Privacy: Would You Pay $5 Per App to Protect Sensitive Personal Information?


It’s no secret that many mobile apps are riddled with security vulnerabilities. But there are other valid worries — will a greedy app developer try to gather as much personal data as possible to sell ads and make a quick buck off your private data?

That’s why a new study from two economics professors at the University of Colorado Boulder is so interesting — the study asked 1,726 people about five kinds of sensitive information typically exchanged between an app developer and consumer. The results found that smartphone owners are significantly more protective over the content of their text messages and personal contact lists than stuff like their personal location or ID number data.

Covering Your Digital Tracks

During the experiments, the professors asked consumers to choose either one app currently traded in the marketplace or five new but very similar apps. The catch? The five new apps varied in their levels of price, advertising, and privacy permissions. Consumers were told what information they must relinquish to the app developer when they download and use the app. These include the location of the consumer while carrying their phone, the websites the consumer has browsed on their phone, the contacts in the address book on the consumer’s phone, the unique identification number of the consumer’s phone, and the text messages the consumer has written and received on their phone.

The results show most consumers would pay an average of $5 per app to protect their sensitive personal information, including the following monetary breakdown:

  • $4.05 for contact lists.
  • $3.58 to veil the contents of a text message.
  • $2.28 to hide their browsing history.
  • $1.75 for the phone’s ID number.
  • $1.19 for personal location.

The study also showed that most consumers are willing to pay $2.12, on average, for not having advertising interfere or distract them from their use of the so-called free app.

Does this study indicate the potential for “full disclosure” of how apps use personal information, similar to the labeling of food contents in grocery stores? Perhaps this could be mutually beneficial to consumers and app developers, where a consumer with high value of privacy could buy a relatively expensive app that places a premium on protecting their personal information.

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Elaine Rigoli

Elaine Rigoli is PRIVATE WiFi's manager of digital content strategy.

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