In 2018, one of the bigger stories in the technology world was the testimony delivered to Congress by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai. While their testimony covered a number of different topics, the most important one was arguably privacy.

Privacy has become a major topic of discussion when it comes to the level that users – on mobile apps, websites, and otherwise – should consistently expect, and not surprisingly, there’s been a lot of backlash against companies (Facebook and Google included) for what is perceived as unethical privacy standards. Indeed, it’s become common knowledge that user data is often shared for targeted advertising and other means, and with 2019 now in full swing, the debate over user privacy rages on with no sign of slowing down. This is why last year’s Congressional hearings and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) were such important news stories in 2018, and why this topic will continue to be talked about as technology and communication evolve.

What this all leads to is: what does this mean for mobile app development in Canada, and how can you ensure that your users have a transparent view of their right to privacy?

(Note: there are some great resources and information on the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s website that explore this topic in great detail)

Understanding the importance of privacy

Smartphones have become an integral part of everyday life for virtually everyone in Canada, and while they have undoubtedly made our lives easier in many ways, they also offer a comprehensive view of a person’s online habits through location tracking and other methods. While many people are content with just putting their faith in the hands of companies like Apple, Google, and the app developers therein, a larger percentage of users have become much more cognizant of their privacy, and it’s important to respect these views and provide your users with a clear picture of what they can expect when they use your app.

Transparency is key

The safest and most respectable method about informing your users about your app’s privacy information is in making it readily available – be it a link to a privacy policy on your app’s standalone website (if applicable) or mentioning it directly in your app’s description/write-up on the App Store or Google Play. And, perhaps most importantly, you want to ensure that the privacy information is clear and easy to understand. Your users are going to want full clarity as to how their information and data will be used, and it’s up to you to appropriately provide this to them.

Use the notification system to your advantage

All smartphone apps – be it on an iPhone or an Android device – have the capacity to send push notifications to users, provided they have them turned on in their phone’s ‘Settings’ menu. This is one of the best and clearest ways of ensuring that your users know what you’re using their data for. Most importantly, though, it gives them the option to opt-out of providing this data if that’s what they’re most comfortable with.

Give your users the option to opt-in or opt-out at their leisure

Let’s say that a new user opens up your app for the first time and is exploring its many features. The user opens up a page on the app that would require the user’s location data, and a pop-up clearly explains this. At the time, the user taps ‘No’, as they don’t want to give their permission for this data, but at a later date they may change their mind. You should make sure that your app allows them to easily change their preference, and most importantly, the data being used should be clearly laid out in your app’s privacy policy.

In closing

In the mobile app industry, there’s arguably never been a more tense time when it comes to user privacy. By following these tips and making sure that you’re respectful and transparent to your users, you’ll ensure the longevity of your app and business for years to come.

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