TrustArc Blog

Mobile Applications vs. Mobile Websites: Do the Privacy Issues Differ?

August 19, 2010

By Janet Jaiswal
Director of Enterprise BU


As growth in all things mobile continues, with estimations of 1.82 billion Internet-enabled mobile devices by 2013, many more companies are creating mobile-friendly versions of their websites and or mobile applications. The decision to adapt to the mobile platform is dependent on your company’s objectives, the cost, potential “reach” of a mobile offering and the needs of your users. With mobile usage exploding, it’s not a question of whether your company should adapt to the mobile platform, but when and how.

Generally speaking, gaming and entertainment industries tend to publish mobile apps while the commerce and social networking industries favor mobile browsers. Mobile web and app pose unique challenges not only in terms of development and implementation but also in terms of familiarity and risk (real and perceived) and general acceptance by its users. Before tackling these issues, let’s first figure out which one(s) make the most sense for your company.

How do mobile applications compare to mobile web sites?

Mobile search company, Taptu, predicts that mobile websites will grow faster than mobile applications.

While iPhone (and now Android) device sales are impressive, creating an iPhone-only application, for example, can alienate a large number of consumers as the iPhone is only expected to account for 10% of all mobile devices sold in 2010.

What is a company to do?

In addition to market share, businesses must consider the cost and maintenance involved in developing applications for a specific mobile Operating System (OS) and platform that may have different technical standards and revenue terms. Leading mobile platforms include iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Symbian, Microsoft Windows, and Palm. Each platform has advantages and disadvantages that must be considered. In addition, if you’re looking toward an international strategy, OS and platform marketshare may vary by country.

What about Mobile Web sites?

Gartner predicts that the mobile websites will become more popular than mobile applications by 2013. Moreover, comScore data reveals:

  • 31.9% of all mobile subscribers used a Web browser on a mobile device in the three months ending in May 2010,up from 26% in the September 2009 three-month average; and
  • 30% downloaded a mobile application in the three months ending in May, compared to 6.7% in the September 2009 three-month average.

What kinds of mobile web sites can I create?

Furthermore, there are four types of mobile web presences according to Matthew Snyder, CEO and Founder of AdObjects: Each can be part of your overall strategy but need to be matched to a specific objective.

1. Mobile versions of existing sites – Companies have built mobile websites, which offer nearly the same features as their traditional websites but are adapted to a handheld format. A textbook example is Facebook’s mobile website at

2. Plug-in-based mobile sites – Similar to the first category, blogs and websites based on WordPress, Drupal or similar open-source platforms can use free plug-ins, which format sites for mobile audiences.

3. Mobile landing pages – As the name suggests, these single-page entities can be created quickly to add a mobile-Web presence to a marketing campaign.

4. Dedicated mobile sites – These sites are standalone, multi-page entities, not mobile versions of a traditional website. They have their own designs and strategies to meet the needs of mobile visitors.

What risks are my users are most concerned about?

If your company is already in planning stages or has already deployed a mobile application and/or mobile web site, you are already in the game. Now, you only need to worry about user adoption and engagement. So, kinds of risks concern most users? For starters, use of mobile devices for more advanced activities such as downloading apps, browsing the Internet and interacting with the other device owners are fairly new to the majority of the US market so the fear of newer technologies means users need added assurance. Next, users are apprehensive about sharing their information through a mobile device because of additional privacy issues that aren’t found on PC web sites due to location technologies. Finally, the size of the device requires even more creative ways to present information and also engage your users. A successful strategy will address all of the above issues and go further in alleviating user concerns to truly obtain user trust.

Does privacy differ for mobile websites and mobile applications?

In short, no. Privacy is something that needs to be considered wherever you collect customer data, be it through your physical store, your traditional website or your mobile website. In all of these instances your data collection, management, storage and sharing (with 3rd parties) needs to be well-defined and in accordance with the rules, regulations and laws around data privacy.

Remember, the foundation of privacy consists of transparency, accountability and choice. It’s your responsibility to disclose any new information collected and shared as well as new uses of previously collected information such as the new processing techniques for data collected via a mobile website or mobile application.

How can I earn my users’ trust?

User trust must be earned by demonstrating:

  1. You are transparent in the use of the data you’ve collected from your users;
  2. You will be accountable for safeguarding the data you’ve collected from your users; and,
  3. You will provide users with meaningful choices about the collection and use of their personal information.

When mobile initiatives are done right your users will reward you by not only downloading your application or accessing your mobile website more frequently through their mobile devices; but also by more deeply engaging with your content and services. In an era of heightened awareness of privacy and a fiercely competitive mobile space, being able to differentiate your application or mobile website by demonstrating your trusted status can only help your bottom line.

For help navigating the privacy landscape with regards to your mobile strategy, contact TRUSTe.

What is your plan for reassuring users that your mobile app or mobile web site doesn’t pose unnecessary privacy risks?

Which privacy principles have been the most challenging for your company in terms of application?


My next blog post in this series will focus on mobile eCommerce