There’s no money in a ‘privacy phone’

In the wake of Amazon’s unveiling of its new smartphone this week, The Wall Street Journal asked “what magical phone feature” would be compelling enough to entice users to switch from iOS or Google’s Android to another platform. The post hasn’t sparked much in the way of a conversation — it has generated only three comments so far — but I was interested to see that two of the six WSJ staffers polled cited security and privacy issues as their top priorities. “If I feel a new phone is going to put higher walls around my privacy and security,” one editor responded, “then I would switch.”

Privacy has always been a major concern in mobile, of course, and that concern has made headlines in recent weeks: Amazon’s phone was described as perhaps the biggest privacy invasion ever, Verizon Wireless’s recent “enhancements” to its mobile advertising business have drawn scorn from privacy advocates, and new features in Facebook’s mobile app were called creepy.

Despite all the hubbub, though, there’s precious little evidence that U.S. consumers are willing to actually pay a premium or even go much out of their way to protect their privacy in an increasingly connected world. A 2013 survey from the Pew Research Center found that only 41 percent of U.S. internet users had set their computer browsers to turn off or disable cookies, and a Microsoft survey earlier this year found that only one-third of consumers had adjusted privacy settings in their social networks. And a 2013 survey form the tech market research firm uSamp indicated a mere 4 percent of users had switched mobile service providers due to privacy concerns. Fears about mobile security and privacy grow more legitimate by the day, but there’s no reason to think consumers will pay to alleviate them.