MEF Summit Experts Discuss Consumer Privacy in a Growing Mobile Market

June 10, 2014– MEF, held its 3rd Annual Consumer Trust Summit in Washington, D.C. with hopes of sparking a conversation about the intersect between the mounting use of “big data” by companies and consumers’ rights to privacy regarding the use of their personal information. MEF was founded in 2000 as Mobile Entertainment Forum, but transitioned its mission and role as its users became more and more concerned about mobile commerce. MEF now serves as a network for all companies involved in the mobile industry- including operators, financial institutions, media and content owners, and more. The conference, hosted by Dentons, highlighted the major consumer privacy and security issues coming to light in a time when technology and the ability to harness big data in new ways are being developed at a faster rate than ever before. The summit sought to strike an equilibrium between the goals of companies attempting to harness these new technologies and the right of consumers to grant or deny consent to the use of their personal information captured by mobile technology.

In the last year there have been increased reports of consumer distrust, especially in regards to mobile technology. According to MEF’s 2014 Annual Consumer Trust Report, 40% of consumers cite lack of trust as to why they do not transact more on mobile technology, increasing from 35% in 2012 and 27% in 2011. With a booming app market, there is an urgent need (for consumers and mobile technology providers) to understand consumer concerns and providers’ monetization needs in order to figure out what the best way forward is in a market where trust in mobile technology is rapidly eroding and consumer affinity for apps is on the rise.

The three panels of the summit are summarized below:

Panel 1: National Regulation in a World Without Boarders consisted of representatives from Dentons, the UK Information Comissionar’s Office, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Federal Reserve Board (FED) who discussed the challenges and benefits of the mobile market being global. Overall, they agreed on a need for international management organizations to assist in coordinating between nations, especially during instances of transnational cybercrime, to determine accountability. Increasing cooperation between nations would provide consumers throughout the world with a support network widespread enough to handle the exponentially growing mobile market, which itself has no boarders. According to Clete Johnson of the FCC, the key to moving forward and maintaining consumer trust is simple- education. “Consumers do not know what happens when they download an app. Our hope is that over the next several years we can help clarify so there truly is an informed market place,” concluded Mr. Johnson.

Panel 2: The Internet of Things and its Impact on Privacy consisted of representatives from  CTIA, the Wireless Registry, KPMG, and Mozilla () and discussed “the Internet of things” and the challenges of big data use and control. Within this group, the question of silo technology systems (systems that operate in isolation from others) emerged, specifically regarding benefits and disadvantages of the systems as they relate to consumer privacy. Companies want to use data to develop products which are tailored to individual consumers- in many cases, unbeknownst to consumers. Rick Fant, Vice President of Apps and MarketPlace at Mozilla, contends that the most important thing in this new technology age is for the user to maintain control. Citing education as a challenge, he continues, “It will take a crisis to wake the consumer up to the situation of giving out information indiscriminately.”

Panel 3: Next Generation Privacy Protection consisted of representatives from  InMobi, F-Secure, TRUSTe, and the App Developers Alliance  and discussed the ways in which consumer protection can and should be pursued, especially in consideration of the fast pace nature of the data industry. Major challenges include the inadequacies in current policies and information systems. While it seems all but impossible to keep up with the data market, consumers need to take it upon themselves to understand the basics of big data. Again, self education is key. By simply taking the time to read the privacy policy when downloading an app, the consumer is given insight into what they are agreeing to, what the app may do with their data, and why the app requests “locations settings” to be turned on. “Even if you’re not thinking about data from a privacy point of view, then you should be looking at it from a security point of view,” affirms Richard Qiu, Director of Mobile at TRUSTe.

The summit concluded with closing remarks from Todd Daubert, Partner at Dentons, and a cocktail reception.

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Olivia is a graduate of Villanova University where she studied Economics and History, minoring in Gender and Women's Studies. She also has experience working with federal legislatures on health care policy, women's issues, and Internet safety.

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