Apple’s slogan “There’s an app for that” has become a reality at worldwide level. For every type of service, product or industry niche, there is more than just one app. All the large companies already have a solid presence in the mobile environment, and smaller companies follow suit.
Most likely, if you are reading this article, you are at least thinking about creating a mobile app for your business, or even in the process of developing it. And you probably know that one of the reasons you are doing it is because you want to know more about your customers, by collecting data through the app.
What Type of Data Can Be Collected by Apps?
Mobile apps offer significantly more possibilities to collect personal data than websites. Theoretically, through a mobile app you can know:
- A person’s precise physical location by accessing the GPS of their phone
- How they, their family and friends look by accessing the photos taken with the phone camera
- Their list of phone contacts (names, phone numbers, email addresses)
- What music they listen to, what games they play, and what other apps they use by accessing their phone storage
This is huge! You can practically know everything about your prospects. Mobile apps are really amazing! However, please note the word “theoretically” we used. In practice, you should be very careful about how much personal data you ask your users to surrender in exchange for using your app and how you treat this data.
Here are a few critical best practices you must follow:
- Explain Why You Need Access to Each Type of Data
Mobile phone hacking, scams run through rogue apps and data leaks are, unfortunately, a reality as big as the App Store. Therefore, people are very careful about how much personal data they share. Their first question is “why do you need to know this?” As app owner it is your duty to answer this question. It doesn’t have to be elaborate.
For instance, a free, ad-supported app can justify the necessity to access the user’s location so that it can serve them relevant ads from businesses in their area.
- Allow Users to Choose How They Sign in to Your App
Some people are reluctant to use the social sign up, even though it is more convenient. They may not want all their friends, business partners or work colleagues to know that they play a certain game or use certain products. Whatever their reasons, you should offer them the option of creating an account by providing their email address and selecting a password.
- Always Store Personal User Data on Servers You Control
During the development phase of your app, you may be offered third party software development kits (SDKs). These SDKs can take care of certain processes, such as collecting and storing user data. It may seem convenient, but it is extremely risky. The general advice, by any earnest developer, is to refuse SDKs for such sensitive activities.
Many SDKs are vulnerable to hacking or are even developed with malicious intent. Once Google and Apple identify and ban a rogue SDK, all the apps using it are also deleted from the app stores. Are you willing to take this risk for the sake of convenience?
- Be Transparent about How You Treat Customer Data
It is a no brainer, but you should reassure your app users in writing that you are collecting their data only in order to offer them the best user experience on the app, that you will not sell their data to a third party and that you will take all precautions to keep it safe. Whenever the users want to know how much data you collect about them, give them access to the totality of information you saved in their account. And whenever you are asked to remove certain data, do it at the first request (informing the user, as appropriate, whether they can still use your app or not).
- Know the Regulations and Comply with Them
Each country has its specific set of regulations concerning personal data collection and usage. Before you start developing your app, you should be informed which regulations your app falls into. For example, if your app is targeted at children, there are very strict rules concerning parental consent for data collection, as well as taking all precautions that a child should not accidentally make a purchase through your app.