One of the great innovations of the modern world is the Smartphone app. The sheer multitude of available apps attests to their popularity and general ability to satisfy our wants and needs. The flip side of the functionality these apps offer is their potential for privacy invasion. Apps can, if granted permission, gather a vast amount of very personal and sensitive information. App developers might exploit the combination of human propensities and the design of the Android permission-granting interface to gain permission to access more information than they really need. This compromises personal privacy. The fact that the Android is the globally dominant phone means widespread privacy invasion is a real concern.
We, and other researchers, have proposed alternatives to the Android permission-granting interface. The aim of these alternatives is to highlight privacy considerations more effectively during app installation: to ensure that privacy becomes part of the decision-making process. We report here on a study with 344 participants that compared the impact of a number of permission-granting interface proposals, including our own (called the COPING interface — COmprehensive PermIssioN Granting) and two Android interfaces. To conduct the comparison we carried out an online study with a mixed-model design.
Our main finding is that the focus in these interfaces ought to be on improving the quality of the provided information rather than merely simplifying the interface. The intuitive approach is to reduce and simplify information, but we discovered that this actually impairs the quality of the decision. Our recommendation is that further investigation is required in order to find the “sweet spot” where understandability and comprehensiveness are maximised.