In times of the pandemic, the importance of of mobile devices and applications has increased even further. The number of installed apps on smartphones and tablets is growing and growing. But what about data protection with mobile applications? The answer is notalways easy.

There’s an app for …

Mobile games, learning programs, office apps: In 2021, Germans spent more money on mobile apps than ever before. A total of 2.9 billion euros in sales were generated with smartphone programs in 2021, according to the digital association Bitkom. „The range of apps is growing all the time – they are replacing the digital camera, the bookshelf, the games console,“ said Dr. Sebastian Klöß, head of consumer technology at digital association Bitkom. „Especially during the Corona crisis, people spent more time with their smartphones. They tried out new apps and spent more money in the process – for example, to stay fit with paid online courses, to pass the time with games or to learn new languages.“

Apps are available for money or data

If you think apps are free after all, and perhaps that’s why they’re so popular, you’re partly right. You can actually get the majority of mobile apps without paying for them. But whether the provider really makes his app available for free is another matter. Many apps are financed by advertising. To make the advertising as relevant as possible and thus more successful, many of these apps collect data about their users. There would be nothing wrong with this if the users were informed about it and had consented to it. In fact, the apps often collect and evaluate user data without informing the users or obtaining their consent. This is not only the case with free apps. Paid apps can also collect data to provide additional business.

Where is the privacy statement?

Whether an app collects data, what data it collects and for what purpose this is done, but also who receives the user’s data, all this should be found in a privacy policy, which must be available for viewing before the app is installed. But it must also be possible to view the privacy policy after the app has been installed. Especially when the app is updated, something may have changed that affects the privacy policy.However, if you look for a privacy policy in apps, you will unfortunately not always find one – on the contrary!

Question data privacy: in the app store and in the app itself

Whether an app has a privacy policy or not should determine whether you install and use the app at all. App stores such as Google Play for Android apps usually have a link in the app description that leads to the privacy policy. Unfortunately, this link is not so easy to find, for example, with the contact details of the app developer. It is even more difficult if you have already installed the app. Here, it seems more like an exception if an app also has a privacy policy area. Even with well-known apps, it cannot be assumed that they really provide comprehensive information about data protection. So if you don’t want to pay for an app with your data without knowing exactly who will learn what for what purpose, you should avoid apps without privacy notices. In fact, many apps want to know more than they need to know. The classic example is apps with a flashlight function that want to access location data and photos. This should make you realize that an app may want to collect user data.

Do you know what an app knows about you? Take the test!

Question: Paid apps do not collect user data. Is that true?

  1. No, you can’t assume that the provider of an app that costs money doesn’t want to do any additional business with data.
  2. Yes, you pay with money and not with your data.

Solution: Answer 1. is (unfortunately) correct. Even apps that cost money can require permissions for data access that are not necessary and then collect data about the user in order to pass the data on to third parties or use the data themselves.

Question: Apps without privacy notices also do not evaluate user data. Is that correct?

  1. Yes, then the app does not involve any personal data.
  2. No, especially if the privacy policy is missing, the app may collect and analyze more user data.

Solution: Answer 2. is correct. If an app does not provide information about data privacy, the provider obviously does not take data privacy very seriously. Informed consent from the user is not possible. Instead, unnecessary data access may occur and user profiles