Why You Should Read the Terms and Conditions for Mobile Apps

Hands up if you have ever read the terms and conditions that pop up on your newly downloaded mobile app. If you are still sitting with your arms folded, just know that you are not alone: a 2017 survey by Deloitte found that 90% of people simply click “I Agree” on apps’ terms and conditions without reading them. Of course, it’s not the most enticing content- it’s a pop-up frame with lots and lots of words, and it’s so much easier to just scroll down, click accept and start using whichever app you downloaded. But the truth is, the Ts&Cs often push legal and ethical boundaries, and you may be completely unaware of just exactly what you agreed to. This is why you should always read the terms and condition on mobile apps.

Man interacting with phone

What’s the purpose of terms and conditions for apps?

Essentially, Ts&Cs are in place to create an agreement between the app and the user. They are meant to stipulate the rules of the app that users should adhere to and the responsibilities of both parties. Terms and conditions aren’t a legal requirements for app developers, and app stores don’t deem it necessary either.  Of course, from a legal perspective, it’s always a good idea to have them, as they do create some kind of contract between the user and provider. So, it’s very important to read and familiarise yourself with exactly what you are signing up for and, possible, what you are giving an app permission to do with details or content.

What exactly am I giving apps permission to do by agreeing to the terms and conditions?

Every app will have their own set of Ts&Cs, so no two instances are the same. However, there are some common and rather disturbing authorisations you may be given apps.

  • Permission to use your personal information

A culprit here is WhatsApp, one of the most widely used apps around the world.  The messaging platform is the go-to texting app for millions ( if not billions), but did you know that agreeing to its Ts&Cs means giving the Facebook-owned company permission to use your personal information. More specifically, it gives the company the right to share some of your details with other entities within the Facebook group, which they then use for targeted advertising.

  • Permission to use the content you post on the platform

Social media is a great way to showcase and document your creative work, but certain apps can redistribute your content without your permission. For instance, in its terms and conditions, Facebook states “…when you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights on or in connection with our Products, you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, and worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content…”. Do note, this is still applicable even if you delete your account.

  • You may be using an app for illegal purposes without knowing it

One of the primary reasons why apps have terms and conditions is to stipulate what their product can legally be used for. Usually, these state that using the app to impersonate someone, promote violence and/or spreading hate speech is against the law. So, it’s always best to read through what the purposes of the app are before accepting the terms and conditions because should you violate any of the “intended uses” you cannot claim that you didn’t know you couldn’t use the app for certain things.

In addition to reading the Ts&Cs, always check what you’ve given an app permission to do/ access

As Wired recommends, “ Every once in a while though, it’s worth running an audit on these apps to make sure they’re not overreaching and going beyond their remit—collecting more data about you and controlling more of your devices than you’d like”. Essentially, this means checking the app permissions that you have allowed. Some apps allow you to deactivate certain permissions, such as accessing your camera or contact list. Of course, an app might need to do some of those things to function properly, but if that is not the case then by all means make some changes. Here’s How To See Everything Your Apps Are Allowed to Do.

Laws South African mobile app developers need to adhere to

So, while some apps can take advantage of what’s contained in the terms and conditions, it’s also in place to protect the user. Over and above that, there are also privacy and data regulations laws that protect consumers, for example:

  • The Consumer Protection Act (CPA)

In terms of selling or advertising goods and services via an app, the CPA requires the wording to be clear and not misleading. What’s more, any pricing must be displayed properly.  Should an app be the “middle man” between the consumer and a retailer, it must be transparent about which shop it represents.

  • The Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (ECTA)

This is specifically aimed at e-commerce apps, and it allows consumers to review an electronic transaction, make any changes and/or withdraw from following through. It also states that the consumer has a “cooling off” period, in which they are allowed to cancel any order made via the app within seven days.

  • The Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act

 This Act, which was recently signed into law, protects people’s private information. Basically, it states that if an app requires someone’s private details, they can only use that information for the specific purpose that someone signed up for. The consumer must be asked about using their personal info for other purposes, told how long their details will be retained for and informed of how their personal information will be protected.

posting pictures on Facebook can get you in trouble

Have a read before clicking ‘I Agree’

It’s really as simple as taking the time to read through what exactly you are signing up for (and signing away!). Yes, legalese can be boring and terms and conditions are lengthy, but it’s worth absorbing all that is contained in them. And, if there is something you may not understand, reach out to a lawyer who can assist you.

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