DigitalizationSector inquiry reveals lack of consumer protection for mobile apps

The German Federal Cartel Office presented the results of its consumer investigation into mobile apps today. The results reveal some occasional yet severe transparency deficiencies for consumers with regard to the download and use of smartphone applications.

As part of this sector inquiry 'Mobile Apps', which has been in progress since October 2020, on behalf of the Federal Cartel Office the infas Institute surveyed consumers about their wishes and views towards apps. Furthermore, the terms of use as well as the presentation in the app stores were examined and the Institute for Technology and Journalism was commissioned with a specialized app analysis on data tracking behavior.

The following problem areas were identified:

  • Lack of information about data access when using apps: Consumers are often not adequately informed about the extent to which third-party companies such as Facebook or Google receive their personal data when using an app and what kind of data is involved. For example, information on this is provided neither in the app descriptions of app stores nor in the privacy statements of the app publishers.
  • An improved search function in app stores is recommended, which enables a targeted search for consumer-friendly apps, such as without trackers or advertising.
  • Lack of transparency regarding contractual partners: The survey shows, that when users download an app, it is usually unclear to them with whom they are concluding a contract.
  • Whether the respective app store operator or app publisher is responsible for warranty claims is not clearly regulated, and there are contradictory statements about this in the terms of use, in the presentation of the app stores or on online help websites.
  • Lack of control over data processing: The consumer desire for more control over the processing of their own personal data is hardly met at the level of the operating system settings of iOS/Apple or Android.
  • The study calls for consumers to be able to effectively turn off data access by apps and delete all non-essential apps by means of clear information and simple setting options.

Andreas Mundt, President of the German Federal Cartel Office, noted: "Apps on smartphones and tablets are used billions of times for communication, shopping, information, travel planning or even gaming. We have found that in numerous cases there are serious deficits in data protection. App publishers, app stores and operating system operators are called upon to contribute to greater legal compliance and consumer friendliness in the use of mobile apps. In this context, we should not only discuss new rules, but also ways of effective law enforcement."

Source: German Federal Cartel Office

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