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The Norwegian Consumer Council will analyse terms, including privacy policies and behaviour of 20 mobile apps. The purpose is to uncover and analyse potential threats to consumer protection, hidden in plain sight in the end user terms and privacy policies of apps.

Read more about the Consumer Council’s Appfail campaign

The goal is to make consumers more aware of their rights, and at the same time raise the bar for app developers, involve enforcement agencies and make the business models more transparent and consumer friendly. The results will be published this winter and an overall report will be published before Easter.

Why apps?

The smartphone functions as both a sensor and a computer. It has become the primary digital unit. Mobile apps offer a wide range of services users can benefit from in their daily lives. The mobile app market on the other hand raises concerns about consumer protection when it comes to how the service providers deal with questions concerning privacy and end user agreements.

The study will be conducted by analysing the Terms of Services and Privacy Policies, and supplemented by searching FAQ pages, and to some extent downloading and using the apps to some extent. The analysis of terms and conditions is based on the methodology the Norwegian Consumer Council used for testing cloud storage services in 2014.

The research institute SINTEF was commissioned to perform a systematic technical test to discover, to best extent possible, the data flows from the app to the service provider and third parties. The results from this test will be published when ready.

The selection of apps

We want to examine a variety of apps in order to shed light on several important aspects of consumer protection. The selection of apps reflects this.

Firstly, we chose to look only at free apps mainly targeted at adults. Secondly, most of the apps, except a few in the “Norwegian category”, are targeted at a global audience. Thirdly, many of the apps selected are among the most popular apps within their category, some are American, other European, some quite new and others more established. We will also take into account findings from app sweeps by The Norwegian Data Protection Authority in 2045 and chose apps with varying score on the online privacy evaluating mechanism PrivacyGrade. We choose apps among three categories of apps: Health and Fitness, Social Media and Norwegian apps.

  • The case to include Health and Fitness apps is that these can be very important tools for the consumer to monitor and improve their health, while at the same time they generate both commercially valuable and sensitive data. Fitness apps provide the user with exact logging of workouts, while calorie counter apps provide nutrition logging.
  • The second category of apps  we will analyse are Social Media apps. They are key for consumers today in relation to social interaction, access to information, freedom of expression and many other functions. It can be very difficult for many to not use a social media service, or to choose another network if they do not like the terms, because it is difficult to move your whole social network to another service. Our definition of social media in this context has included traditional social and professional networking services, but also dating apps as they function in a similar way.
  • As a means of comparison we also included some Norwegian apps in the study. A variety of different services will be selected in order to get an overview.

The campaign on consumer protection in mobile apps is funded by the Norwegian Government through the Norwegian Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion.