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Mobile Privacy: Put control of data in the right hands

People caress the smartphone, the most personal and intimate of digital devices, stare at it, and clothe it in silicone skins. When nature calls, 75 percent of us take it into the bathroom.

We routinely use the smartphone to post family photographs and reveal details of our daily lives on Facebook and other social sites. We conduct numerous financial and other confidential transactions with it.

Day after day, hour after hour, we voluntarily choose to relinquish our privacy to share aspects of ourselves and take in the offerings of others online. In this context, it seems that we do not hold privacy sacred, but, rather, the right to decide what is strictly private and what is not.

So, when it comes to online privacy, should we be misers or prudent spenders? The objective of a miser is to keep a tight fist around his money and let none of it go.

In contrast, the objective of a prudent spender is to choose investments thoughtfully, exchanging value for value. Most of us are not privacy misers, but instead endeavor to invest our privacy prudently, relinquishing a portion of it only in exchange for some desired value.

The issue of online privacy is increasingly on the agenda of policymakers, however, current EU and U.S. approaches set forth sharply different measures to protect privacy.

The EU takes a government-driven consumer opt-in approach (such as the EU Cookie Directive), whereas the U.S. appears to be committed to self-regulation, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The EU would put government in control of privacy. Proposed legislation in the U.S. would leave it to a largely self-regulated industry. Neither approach will satisfy either the privacy miser or the prudent privacy spender.

There is a third approach, supported by AVG Technologies, which empowers the individual user to control his or her privacy - by equipping and enabling the user to choose when, where, and how to invest in their own privacy.

Users, each individually as well as in their aggregate billions, have the greatest stake in the control of privacy: greater than that of governments or of industry.

What is more, privacy is by commonsense definition private; therefore, control of privacy should be a product of individual decision making. Privacy is not just a word or an abstract concept; rather, it is the product of a series of decisions and the actions and consequences that flow from them.

This approach has benefits for all stakeholders. It relieves government of the task of attempting to impose one-size-fits-all regulation on millions of individuals in billions of cases.

Additionally, it benefits e-commerce. Giving consumers full knowledge of their online data and complete control over how this data is used, shared, or withheld enhances the effectiveness of online behavioral advertising (OBA) - because consumers choose how, when, where, and by whom to be tracked, thereby signaling to e-commerce providers their interest in this or that product or service. Consumers, of course, benefit by attracting the information they need and want, without the annoyance and distraction of ads they don't want.

With mobile on the cusp of digital dominance, and governments and companies fervently debating issues of "privacy," the moment is prime to put control of data in the right hands - the hands that hold the smartphone.

To do otherwise threatens not only privacy, but the boundless benefits of current and emerging mobile technology.