Is the mobile app the product, or are we?
That's the question a new study, commissioned by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, has sought to find out with some surprising results.
Australian smartphone and tablet users have spent an average of about $20 in the past 12 months app downloads, content unlocking, accelerating game play, or removing ads.
But forty-two per cent of those spending money felt that they did not receive what they were expecting.
The research, also found that 18 per cent had spent money unintentionally by incurring automatic credit card charges or taking an action without expectation of charges being levied.
ACCAN chief executive, Teresa Corbin, said it was the first study to give these insights on Australian consumers, exploring how end-users can be customers, purchasing apps or paying for features within apps and how at the same time they can also be products in that they are an audience for advertising in apps, or represent valuable personal data for advertisers and marketers.
“The study aims to illustrate how Australians are negotiating the tension between being customers and being products,” she said.
“Along with all of the amazing things apps can do, most developers want to design ways of obtaining either money, information or both from users.”
The research showed that the idea of getting apps for free is well embedded, with 65 per cent of people saying they download paid apps either never or less often than every few months.
Corbin said it was not clear as to whether consumers made the connection that if the app was free that they were often the “product” in the equation.
“Essentially consumers are not particularly keen to pay up front for an app’s capabilities apart from the occasional one that they know they will find exceptionally useful,” she said.
“The preference is to treat apps more to try out and if it turns out to offer extra features they want, people may pay at that point.”
In terms of permissions given to apps and the information they may have access to, the greatest concern is that apps may access financial details with 85 per cent of people worried about apps having access to their credit card or other account details.
Sixty-eight per cent are concerned about access to their contacts and their phone number while 63 per cent were worried about their photos being compromised.
According to the study, iOS users are more careful than Android users when it comes to granting permissions to apps.
Twenty-eight per cent of iOS users said they reviewed these permissions in detail, compared to only 21 per cent of Android users.
While people are willing to spend money on games and some other categories, the research found a lack of enthusiasm for paying to access a version of an app that respects privacy.
The average price respondents were willing to pay for a version of an app that does not access personal data is $6.80, with amounts varying for wealthier households and across age groups.
These prices make it seem as though Australians value their privacy, however the research revealed that 66 per cent said they would in fact pay nothing to download a version of an app that wouldn’t access their personal information.
She said the most problematic app category for spending is games, accounting for 40 per cent of unintended spend,” she said.
“The greatest risk for unintentional spend is when the device is used by the device owner – 56 per cent overall; children accounted for 29 per cent of occasions and other adults for 16 per cent.”
The sample for the survey was about 1,000 people and was representative of the Australian online, smartphone and tablet using population.