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Is there a higher bar of native apps? Why or why not?
August 15, 2011 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Is gathering application usage data for analytic purposes ethical?

The gathering of usage statistics for web applications (and online games) is established as an activity does not require explicit user permission. People are accustomed to that.

However, native apps on desktops and mobile devices sometimes ask for permission to gather and report usage information. Some apps do gather usage data, but don't ask. Putting aside the factor of a bit of extra bandwidth needed to make the reports, ethically, how are native apps different from web apps and online games?

And what are the cases for asking or not asking for permission when gathering usage data?
posted by ignignokt to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
> And what are the cases for asking or not asking for permission when gathering usage data?

Generally, companies don't have to ask permission to gather usage data on programs since there is already a clearly stated policy in the employee/HR manual about all computing resources belonging to the company. Any large company with a well developed IT department is going to have something like eSmart to track what applications its users are running.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 1:09 PM on August 15, 2011


In a web or online game, the user is (generally) consuming resources on computing infrastructure that is not their own, i.e. servers. Because the server is inherently involved in providing the game or the web content, there's a reasonable expectation that the owner of the server would be able to track things that happen there.

For desktop/native apps, however, this is (generally) not the case. The application would have to go out of its way, so to speak, to provide usage information to the developer or publisher of the application.
posted by DWRoelands at 1:12 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


> As long as its not identified with which user does what on there.

And yet, much of this kind of data collecting is done to ensure software licensing compliance. If someone is running unlicensed or pirated software on their work PC, the company could face some nasty fines if not corrected. Knowing which user has the cracked copy on their computer is a requirement.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 1:38 PM on August 15, 2011


Is gathering application usage data for analytic purposes ethical?

For a local application, only ethical with explicit consent. For web-based apps, it's assumed that usage data will be collected.

how are native apps different from web apps and online games?

There are technical differences, but they're muted in the age of always-connected broadband. Mostly it's just a question of social norms and user expectations.

And what are the cases for asking or not asking for permission when gathering usage data?

I wear pants when I go out in public, and I ask permission when gathering data locally. Social norms.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:41 PM on August 15, 2011


And yet, much of this kind of data collecting is done to ensure software licensing compliance.

If it makes a difference, the kind of data collecting I'm referring to is more along the lines of the kind that answers questions like "Is this feature never used?" and "what path do users take to get to this view in the app?"

I wear pants when I go out in public, and I ask permission when gathering data locally. Social norms.

That is a good point - norms are as important as comparative right-or-wrong stuff when it comes to a good relationship with users. I do see signs that this norm is changing, although I'm not sure how far along this change is.
posted by ignignokt at 1:55 PM on August 15, 2011


Well, savvy users can see exactly what you're collecting from local applications. No one can tell what you're collecting from web apps. People love to speculate about what's being collected and how evil people are using that data, but it's less scary when it's not concrete (see how whenever there is something concrete, even if it's innocuous, people freak out).
posted by anaelith at 2:16 PM on August 15, 2011


I do see signs that this norm is changing

Definitely changing. Smart phones and tablets are a place where it is acceptable to gather data without consent on a local application, and most consumers don't place much value on their privacy. If you ask this question a year or two in the future the answer may change.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:18 PM on August 15, 2011


Online versus desktop apps are two very different cases. Users coming to your server and running an app/game/database have a reasonable expectation that their use is monitored to some degree. Here I think the user expectation of privacy is that their name and email not be given out but beyond that any metadata regarding them or their usage habits are free game. On the desktop users have the expectation of total privacy, it's their personal data space and anything you want from them requires that you ask for it specifically. Legally you could probably cover any "phone home" requirements in the user license but it would be impolite not to ask, and if your users are at all geeky, they will be very angry that you are spying on them without asking.
posted by doctor_negative at 2:27 PM on August 15, 2011


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