GDPR & personal privacy concerns top SafeDK's annual review of SDK trends
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GDPR & personal privacy concerns top SafeDK’s annual review of SDK trends

Personal privacy took center stage in 2018 as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect in May 2018. Analysis from SDK management platform SafeDK shows this trend will continue and set the course for the future.

GDPR brought with it much stricter government regulations related to privacy and user data. Mobile app developers have had to rebuild trust with partners, increase the transparency of data shared by users, and fulfill expectations that come with new government regulation. As a result, developers have modified their software development kits (SDKs) to address the new law.

SafeDK’s Annual Review of SDK Trends in 2018, which focuses on the Android ecosystem and apps within the Google Play store, underscores where the market is headed in 2019.

Developers will still leverage SDKs that can deliver analytics, engagement, advertising, and smooth experiences for users. But as users weigh the benefits of convenience versus privacy, app publishers and SDKs must adapt to these new priorities.

GDPR’s New Footprint

Due to GDPR fewer apps in 2018 had SDKs that access private user data, except when it came to “location” and “contacts” information, according to the SafeDK report. But access to those data sources increased in 2018, with 58.6 percent of apps accessing location information and 32.1 percent of apps taking in contacts information.

The rise of these two information types suggests the needs of users, within specific contexts, outweighs their privacy considerations. Alternatively, according to SafeDK, this may also indicate a societal shift in what data users deem private information.

SafeDK’s 2018 report also notes that mobile apps integrate an average of 18.2 SDKs, and that mobile apps dropped old unused SDKs while integrating new ones they found necessary. According to the report, the data privacy threats of certain SDKs also influenced this trend.

Sports apps, for example, dropped a number of SDKs in the first half of this year, but integrated more SDKs in the second half. The onset of the GDPR likely influenced this adjustment, according to SafeDK’s experts.

Meanwhile, along with the News & Magazine and Shopping app categories, the Finance apps category saw an increase in SDK integration. SafeDK’s analysis suggests that an increase in financial transactions in the virtual world, including in-app purchases, may have accounted for this uptick.

Pushing for a Better Experience

While anxiety still exists around privacy issues, it has not deterred new app development. SDKs have the potential to unleash a powerful, versatile swath of capabilities, from analytics to attribution, that benefit both the publisher and the user.

By following the core tenants of an ideal mobile data SDK, as the artificial intelligence platform LotaData has outlined, app publishers and SDKs can be useful without compromising user safety and experience.

A more secure process involves four key components, according to LotaData. The following components align with government regulation as LotaData pushes SDKs to improve their offerings and conditions:

  • Obtain user consent through explicit opt-in.
  • Encrypt and protect user data for security.
  • Inform users about privacy policies and any data sharing.
  • Elaborate on the benefits and value to the user.

SafeDK’s review shows a slow decline in access to other user apps. According to its analysis, this may have less do to with the GDPR and more to do with Google’s announcement that it will suspend violators that access information from apps that come pre-installed on devices.

Indeed, as Google also faces heat around privacy issues, the push for more accountability is not just coming from external government regulations, but also from internal pressure.

Must-Need Categories and Shifting Priorities for App Publishers

SafeDK’s report notes that analytics and advertising remain the top two SDK use cases for app publishers. Meanwhile, integrated payment functionality has emerged as the third most required category. This is likely the result of a growing societal shift where in-app purchases — whether it’s for news, games, or a smoother experience for an otherwise free version of a software — are becoming more mainstream.

Payment’s growth has now pushed the “social” category to fourth place among app publisher needs, though the percentage of apps with a social function is still healthy at 47.4 percent.

The category that grew the most was “crash reporting.” It grew by more than seven percent between December 2017 and December 2018 and is now the fifth most-used category for app publishers.

This increase is likely the result of Google’s adjustment to its search and recommendation algorithm in the Google Play store. The algorithm has moved to amplify apps that have less of a history of crashing than others. So if crash reporting is growing, according to SafeDK, apps are likely worried about attracting and retaining users.

Another sign of this concern is that the Google-owned software company Crashlytics is now the fourth-strongest SDK in the Android system.

The Top Players in the SDK Ecosystem

Indeed, SafeDK’s report shows the strongest-performing SDKs in the Android ecosystem are Google-owned and -operated SDKs.

Google Play Services, the API package for Android devices, is the top player and is present in 96.3 percent of all apps. It’s followed by the mobile and web application Firebase, which Google acquired in 2014. Firebase grew by 15 percent in 2018 and announced it will open-source its SDKs, a move both the development and business communities are likely paying attention to.

While Google Mobile Ads still dominates the advertising category, the Facebook Audience Network continued to grow in 2018 and remains the second-most integrated advertising SDK. The Facebook Audience Network performed well with Dating, Productivity, Games, Sports and News & Magazines apps. It was also the fastest-growing ad network for many app categories in 2018.

Integrating SDKs in the mobile app development process

In short, 2018 was the year that privacy became a priority, and that trend is continuing. Rules, regulations and new search and recommendation algorithms all influenced how app publishers are now integrating SDKs, not to mention the growing awareness around privacy and data breaches.

In 2019, the path toward better transparency and accountability should only ignite further for app publishers and SDKs. Looking ahead, SDKs must reflect user preferences and government regulations in order to maintain their value for app publishers.

Learn more about SDK Trends by reading SafeDK’s Annual Review of SDK Trends.

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