When your application is ready for its first beta test, you might feel worried about sharing your app externally, considering the risk it might pose to secrecy, privacy, and even security. Likewise, when beta testing a new app, many testers can feel concerned about the data the beta app collects and how it handles it.
In this post, we will take a look at some of the most common beta testing privacy and security concerns for developers and beta testers. We will also go through some best practices to help you and your testers overcome these challenges
Giving your app a negative image
Your app’s beta version will likely contain bugs, usability issues, and/or performance issues, and might look nothing like your release version. Indeed, this is the main purpose of beta testing, but you don’t want that image to affect how your released app is perceived.
Maintaining a competitive advantage
Sharing your pre-release app with beta testers will reveal what you have been working on to them. Naturally, this isn’t something you would want your competitors to get their hands on, and beta tests can be an opportunity for them to get a closer look.
Controlling your marketing message
Beta tests can create a buzz around your app but you still want to control how it is presented to match your marketing message. Having too much exposure and information shared about your app before release lowers your ability to control the messaging and thwarts your planned announcements.
Piracy is a problem that has plagued software developers for decades and is not going to disappear anytime soon. While this is a much bigger problem on Android, it is still a real issue for iOS too. Beta apps might be less susceptible to piracy because they are not widely available, but having your app pirated before it is even released can have a devastating effect on your app.
Beta tests can give malicious attackers a close look at your app and a headstart on finding vulnerabilities to exploit. This is usually only a risk for apps that handle highly sensitive data like banking apps and depends on the amount of exposure the beta test has.
Data collection and privacy
The concern over data collection and privacy has been steadily increasing, stoked by the many data breaches and reports of misuse or insecure handling of user data as well as new industry regulations like GDPR. And since beta tests tend to collect much more data than a released app, this could make uninformed beta testers think twice about participating. This is a bigger problem for new apps and fresh startups that have not had the time to build trust and a good reputation.
Many of the tools used by mobile apps for analytics and user feedback need a number of permissions to be able to function. In many cases, these permissions have nothing to do with your app’s features and can look suspicious if not disclosed and explained to your users. Keep in mind that starting from iOS 10, apps that don’t provide a usage description for microphone and photo library permissions will be rejected when submitted to the App Store.
Best Practices for Beta Test Privacy and Security
- Limit the number of testers you recruit for your beta test. The risk of leaks will decrease if you make your app available to a small number of testers. And if you find that you are not generating enough results, you can remedy that by adding more testers.
- Choose your testers wisely. Qualify your testers with a survey to make sure they fall under your target market and are trustworthy.
- Use a beta participation agreement and an NDA. These legal agreements help your testers understand their responsibilities and the importance of their roles. This will also inform them about the data you intend to collect and what they can and cannot share with others.
- Provide your testers with a feedback channel. If your testers can't easily find a channel to communicate their feedback, they might end up sharing this feedback on social media in their effort to reach you. Ensure that your feedback channels do not have too much friction for your testers and that they are familiar with how to use them.
- Give testers an outlet. Beta testers can sometimes get very excited about your beta test and can't wait to talk about it with other people. Instead of having them share their excitement in public, try to provide a forum or other channel where testers can interact with each other and share their excitement.
- Follow security best practices like code hardening, HTTPS, and encryption. This will make it harder for hackers to steal sensitive data, find vulnerabilities, and reverse engineer your source code.