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ACM launches awareness campaign called ‘Each app has its price’

Through its consumer information portal ConsuWijzer, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) today launched an awareness campaign called ‘Each app has its price’ (in Dutch: ‘Elke app heeft een prijs’). This campaign is aimed at raising awareness among consumers about the fact that, when installing an app, they grant access to a large amount of data. Although they might pay little or nothing at all for the app itself, they often do not realize that their data can also be a currency.

The campaign’s objective is to have consumers make conscious decisions rather than unquestioningly granting app providers access to their data. Anita Vegter, Member of the Board of ACM, explains: “It is very important that consumers are aware of what they say yes to when installing apps. As far as we are concerned, that is the first step of the awareness that we wish to create. And saying ‘no’ is obviously also possible.”

This ConsuWijzer campaign is part of a national campaign of Alert Online, a joint initiative of the Dutch government, the corporate sector, and the academic world to increase online security.

Why is this important?

A survey conducted by ACM and the Dutch National Youth Council (NJR) among Dutch youth revealed that young people are often unaware of the fact that app providers make money from their personal information, and that, when purchasing ‘free’ apps, they actually pay with their data. App providers are required to inform consumers about what they will do with their data, and must ask for the consumer’s consent for gaining access to their data. A lot of youth (92%) say they usually do not bother reading the terms and conditions. Approximately 21 percent of youth read the authorizations with which apps gain access to the data on their smartphones such as calendars, contacts, location, and photos.

Why is this a bad thing?

What we are observing is a so-called ‘privacy paradox’. The special campaign video explains this phenomenon. The survey reveals that young people say they find online privacy very important. Yet, if asked what concrete actions they are taking, it turns out that they do little to protect their online privacy. Only if they have gone through a bad experience does their awareness increase. Many youth say they have no problem with data-collecting apps, for example, because they feel they have nothing to hide. But often they do not know that app providers resell their data, and that all of the data combined can be used to build profiles of consumers.

What is it you can do?

  • Before installing an app, find out what information it wants to gain access to. You can think about whether you want to agree to that or not.
  • Are there any alternatives? There may be apps that do cost money, but that do not need as much information.
  • Read the terms and conditions of the app, or at least the part about privacy. Also read the terms and conditions of the apps that you currently use. If an app accesses a lot of information, and you rarely use that app, you might consider deleting the app.
  • With some phones, you can change the settings of apps after installation. Would you like to know how?

What are the rules?

Apps cannot use the data found on your smartphone or tablet without your consent. This includes your location, contacts, messages, or photos. This has been laid down, among other acts, in the Dutch Telecommunications Act. ACM enforces compliance with this act. Consumers must be informed of what data is collected and for what purpose. The information that consumers receive about this process must be specific and clear. Providers are allowed to inform consumers in different ways, but it cannot be merely a reference to the privacy terms and conditions. If the app only uses data that is needed for providing the service, the provider is not required to ask for the user’s consent. If the app wishes to share information with third parties, then the consumer must also give their consent first. And it must also be clear who these third parties are. ACM will be keeping a close watch on this too.