Privacy on the Web? No, Thank You.

For all the outrage over the Chinese government spying on Skype users, when it comes to privacy, consumers value the talk rather than walk the walk. We often don’t want the inconvenience that security requires (sometimes even re-entering passwords is too much), which can be a difficult line to walk for entrepreneurs seeking to entice users to their online services.

Jason Devitt, founder of mobile bill tracking software maker Skydeck, told me recently that the company dropped its requirement that users download a browser toolbar. It also tweaked some other settings, trying to make life easier for consumers and by extension, attract more users. The catch? Those features were there to protect users, to give them the ability to hang onto and control their own data. Turns out, that’s a bit too much work. Devitt explained:

Rather than ask you to trust us with the username and password for your cell phone account, we forced you to download a browser toolbar. When you put your credentials into that they never left your PC – the toolbar logged in to your cell phone account to fetch your data and relayed it to Skydeck. Again, some people appreciated this. But most people told us that installing a toolbar was just too much work.

So Devitt is still committed to keeping data secure, but Skydeck now asks new users for their credentials directly and logs on for them. Users like it, and Devitt has learned a bit more about the value of usability over privacy. This is a bummer for those of us who think that perhaps a slight lack of convenience is a small price to pay for keeping your data safe. Any other startups out there finding it hard to walk this line?

Incidentally, I have been using Skydeck for a couple of months now and really like it. It’s gone from being a gimmicky way to see who I called most often to a useful tool to track sources and my daily communications.