User-Centered Approach

A User-Centered Approach in Mobile App Development

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The Profit vs. Users Dilemma

Last week, we discussed Google’s new strict enforcement of their User Data Policy. We also mentioned the study that shows how a lot of app developers don’t actually abide by their own privacy policy. Apparently, some apps gather sensitive user information without permission and share said information to a third party. This is shocking news for many but for some, it just confirms their suspicions. But this departure from a user-centered approach to a profit-centered approach in app development isn’t actually sudden. It’s not new either.


Even with how this betrayal of trust appears, it is most of the time due to need and not greed. The reality is that small-time developers only get little to no revenue from their app portfolio. Some of these developers end up employing aggressive and somewhat underhanded monetization tactics.


But is this issue only limited to struggling app developers? There are probably several app development companies that are guilty of bypassing their own privacy policies. Most of the time, there is no ill-intent, just casual disregard to the users’ interests. But where do you draw the line?


Rules for a User-Centered Approach

There are no solid rules but there are best practices in app development. These rules serve as a checklist that you can use as a guide producing quality and user-centered apps. Any necessary implementation won’t cost anything except some effort on your part as a developer.

Rules on privacy

  • Respect users’ privacy. This general rule includes sensitive data handling issues like third-party access and monitoring. The purpose of the monitoring is also another issue. As much as possible, only monitor app usage data to improve app performance.
  • Do not request for unnecessary permissions. The type of data you request from users also matters. Do you really need access to a user’s contact list? Is it really necessary in the onboarding to require the user’s phone number? This is where you can (re)consider your intentions.
  • Do not sell sensitive user data. This one is tricky. If you sell anonymous user data to third parties, you aren’t technically violating your users’ privacy.This data is often used to determine usage trends, buying habits, and other insights.

Worryingly, there are data aggregation and sharing practices that go beyond the app’s purpose. If you don’t feel comfortable about your personal data being aggregated this way, just think about how your users would feel

Rules on Honesty

  • Use plain and simple language in the privacy policy. There’s no need to confuse users with legal jargon. Users would most likely feel that you have something under your sleeve if their interpretation of the privacy policy does not coincide with yours.
  • Don’t trick users into spamming their friends and other app users. This became an issue last year with a photo-sharing app. Users inadvertently spammed all their contacts via SMS. This was after the app promised users with “1 GB of storage per invite sent.”

Though the users technically gave consent for the app to access their contact list, they did not expect for the app to spam all their contacts with invites and notifications.

Rules on Respect

  • Minimize disruptions. Disruptions can come in the form of pop-up ads or notifications. Ads and branding features should be discreet and timely. A great user experience is, after all, the main focus of a user-centered approach. This also extends to the practice of sending misleading notifications, especially through SMS.
  • Don’t hog bandwidth. Make sure that added functionality doesn’t cause the app to consume a lot of data. This is especially important with background processes that users may not be aware of. If the use of a lot of data is really necessary, you should be upfront to your users about it.


There are more unspoken rules in app development and in the handling of user data in particular. Do you know any other rules for a user-centered approach in app development? Tell us in the comments.

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