Social Networking Apps: Assurance of Privacy Is A Valuable Intangible Asset That Should Be Integrated Before Launch and Not Squandered

Michael D. Moberly   June 25, 2012

As an admitted intangible asset advocate and strategist, personal privacy, and, I mean real and consistent personal privacy, not just the sort conjured in legal ease as a ‘check the box’ prelude to joining a social networking platform, is an incalculably valuable intangible asset that unfortunately, some ‘app’ developers appear to be squandering in an effort to derive business models to achieve near term revenue streams.

Colleagues and readers of this blog may characterize what’s really being squandered are a company’s trust, reputation, and relationship capital.  Regardless, each is an intangible asset, each has significant value, and when erosion and/or undermining occurs, substantial financial losses and market space can materialize very rapidly.

Here’s just one example, probably among thousands, which I believe goes to the heart of the issue.  Parker Higgins highlighted a privacy problem in Electronic Frontier Foundations’ blog (March 8, 2012), i.e., how apps need to respect user privacy rights from the start.

In the post, Higgins’ describes a Texas born app that facilitates, ‘ambient social networking’.  Translated, that means the app runs in the background of one’s phone collecting and sharing location data, etc., and then notifies you when your friends and/or others with shared interests are in proximity, thus, enhancing serendipity!  

I am certainly not suggesting these types of apps are inherently wrong or necessarily violate the increasingly tenuous presumption of privacy.  After all, one must willingly purchase the app, therefore buyers presumably understand the apps features and its often requisite connection to other social networking sites. 

As Higgins quite correctly points out though, it certainly doesn’t require much imagination to foresee how sending a steady stream of data and information of all types to a third party, that may have not have a privacy or data retention policy in place, can, and inevitably will, give rise to a host of significant personal privacy issues.

At this point, let me respectfully refute any notion that this post constitutes an effort to advance some sort of conspiracy theory related to social networking media.  Should any reader of this post believe that to be the case, they are well off-the-mark!

So, I reiterate, personal privacy, presumed or not, is, in my view, an extremely valuable, yet very fragile form of intangible asset and should be treated as such. 

If I were a board member or shareholder of an app developing firm, I would make every effort to obligate management teams to consider ‘personal privacy’ as being integral, if not a fiduciary responsibility to app development and not ‘play fast and loose’ with the stewardship, oversight, and management of ‘privacy’ as a real (business) intangible asset!

The personal privacy issues Higgins claims are bringing to the forefront a larger problem in app development, which is, initially building and marketing a ‘minimum viable product’  only to see how it’s received by niche consumers, and then adding personal privacy features later.  But, cutting privacy corners that are likely to undermine the strategic value of personal privacy along with consumer trust and the reputation of app development firms are intangible assets that should not be taken lightly or squandered!

As aptly noted by Marissa Levin (Successful Culture blog) a lifetime that has become largely ‘app driven’, we also must consider safeguarding the humanity of our companies.


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