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Apple informs consumers about the data use of apps following call from regulators worldwide

Apple will indicate in its App Store what personal data each app uses. Starting today, app providers are required to include such information on their products’ pages in app stores. This information will shortly become visible to consumers, when looking for apps in the App Store. Consumers will be able to take this information into consideration when choosing apps. This will stimulate providers to compete with each other on favorable privacy conditions. With this change, Apple answers the call made by 27 consumer authorities across the world, united in ICPEN (International Consumers Protection and Enforcement Network). The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) is also one of its members. As yet, Google has not responded to this call.

Cateautje Hijmans van den Bergh, Member of the Board of ACM, comments: “A free app that sells your data to third parties is not truly free. Information about what data the app uses is thus of vital importance to consumers. With this added level of transparency, providers now have an incentive to compete with one another on favorable privacy conditions. It is critical that consumers have this information before using an app. With that information, consumers will be more in control of their privacy. Within ICPEN, ACM, together with the Norwegian and British consumer authorities, have been among the leading proponents of this change.”

What was the problem?

It is important for consumers to be able to compare apps offered in app stores on their key characteristics such as data use. Some apps seem free, yet, at the same time, make money by selling your personal data to third parties. Sometimes you will only find out when you get a request from the app to access your data, at which point you already have installed the app, meaning that this information came too late. Without that information, it is difficult comparing different apps in advance.

What is the solution?

ACM and ICPEN wish that the app stores of Apple and Google make it easier for consumers to compare the data use of different apps with each other. That will allow consumers to take privacy into consideration when choosing apps, and it will enable app providers to separate themselves from the competition. Various studies indeed show that, in the app stores, having a separate paragraph on the product page containing basic information really does lead to more privacy-conscious choices. However, that also largely depends on the manner in which the information is provided.

What steps have been made?

The consumer authorities involved have shared their wishes regarding increased transparency in app stores with Apple and Google. These wishes have been discussed with them, and they have been asked to implement changes to their app stores. One of the suggestions is to add an additional paragraph on the app’s product page in the app store containing this essential information, in plain language, and with icons, so that it is easy for consumers to make comparisons.

What will change for consumers?

It will now become much easier for consumers to compare and choose apps on the basis of privacy-related characteristics. In its most recent update, Apple added a new paragraph to the app’s product page in its App Store, containing key information about the data that the app collects: a summary of the most important information from the privacy policy, in plain language and with icons. After the update, it will take several days before this information will be visible to all consumers.

The digital economy is one of the key priorities on ACM’s Agenda. ACM also launched an investigation into abuse of dominance by Apple in its App Store. This investigation is a follow-up to the Market Study into App Stores, which ACM published in 2019, and which is separate from ICPEN’s call.