Delaying Informed Consent: An Empirical Investigation of Mobile Apps' Upgrade Decisions
80 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2019 Last revised: 15 Mar 2022
Date Written: March 4, 2022
We study apps' decisions to upgrade to Android 6.0, which restricts their ability to seek blanket permissions to sensitive user information at install-time, instead requiring them to request à-la-carte permissions at runtime. Such a shift in Android’s permission-seeking policy comes in the wake of apps’ overreaching and users’ proactive measures to protect their sensitive information. Mobile apps on Android had a choice of upgrading to Android 6.0 anytime over a three-year window instead of being forced to upgrade immediately. Given the choice of upgrading to version 6.0, that provides mobile apps with the latest platform features or staying with an earlier version that provides them with better access to user information, our study seeks to examine the upgrade decisions of apps and the outcomes of such decisions. We assemble and analyze a unique panel dataset comprising 13,691 of the most popular apps for 24 months and find that apps that traditionally seek more runtime permissions than those required for the app’s functionality, delay upgrading. Specifically, we find that such upgrade delays are more likely by overreaching apps that seek to serve targeted advertisements in-app. Even those apps that have an iOS equivalent (iOS had a-la-carte permission regime since 2012) demonstrate similar delaying behavior, indicating that the reasons for delay are strategic and not operational. More importantly, we find that such upgrade delays come at a cost to apps in terms of marketplace outcomes such as rating and popularity. We discuss the implications of our findings for app-providers as well as platform-operators.
Keywords: Information Privacy, Mobile Apps, Software Upgrade, Platform Governance, Policy Change
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