A YouGov poll commissioned by The Sunday Times in London shows 70 percent of people who download apps agree to the terms and conditions without reading them. I am guilty as charged on this one. The surprising thing is that 30 percent claim that they do read everything.
The result, according to the paper, is that apps can be authorised to take all sorts of information from a user’s phone. Some apps have been reading texts and emails, many upload your phone list and some can even see what you are photographing. Users have been caught out by unwittingly agreeing to receive spam texts, although this is just one obvious outcome. Far more worrying is what happens to the information that is used without your knowledge.
Apple has been well aware of the problem since the start. Two years ago Steve Jobs said that Apple had rejected a load of apps that “want to take a lot of your personal data and suck it up into the Cloud.” Along the way, on the other hand, Apple has been accused of operating a closed-shop and controlling the user experience.
To a large degree Apple has succeeded in protecting users from themselves. I, for one, do not think it is a bad thing, as long as the company doesn’t get involved in too many moral issues and nannyism. The vast majority of phone users do need as much protection as they can get. Those who want to take more risks can jailbreak or buy some other brand of phone.
The signs are, though, that Apple is slipping a little and is letting through rogue apps that take your information for more than is necessary for your convenience in using the app.
Terms and conditions are always a minefield. As I said, I seldom, if ever, read them before signing away my rights. To go through all that small print would drive us crazy and, unfortunately, we wouldn’t be all that much wiser if we did read everything. Is it too much to ask that apps spell out exactly what information they are intending to access—in a clear, bold panel rather than in the T&C blurb—before the user presses the Agree button?