Unethical design by negligence
This article is part of an ongoing series where I hope to outline the prerequisites for an Ethical End User License Agreemenet (EULA) under the principle of Informed Consent, and relate it to the upcoming European privacy legislation GDPR.
I take two examples of design choices that I perceive as problematic in terms of ethics and lawfulness: Reseplaneraren, a travel planner and FMTK, a fitness app. Both of these apps are from government controlled entities and both are tax funded.
The Swedish military has a fitness app whose purpose is to get potential recruits and their employees into shape. Unfortunately, I don’t get as far as to actually try these excerises out, because the first thing that happens upon opening is that I am prompted to grant the app access to my photos, media and files.
I click deny — I want to excercise, not show my face. The app prompts me:
Access is denied and the app cannot function as it’s supposed to without it.”
I am denied all access to this app because I won’t give them free access to every picture I make.
I have asked the Swedish military who published the app why I have to give them all that information. They are yet to answer me, and I hope to reflect on their answer in a later article. However, users of the app tell me that this permission is only used for setting a profile picture. The app has some social features, why it would make sense to be able to set a profile picture, but by no means this is a core feature.
I don’t think the military does this in order to spy on potential recruits. I think they do it due to poor design choices. These design choices however compromise my privacy and are potentially unlawful.
My next example is the travel planner app (Skånetrafikens Reseplanerare) that wants me to grant them the following permissions:
The location would make sense since it will provide five seconds less of typing, but it’s not a core feature and the app can function without it. I can’t even begin to theorize why they would use three of four of these permissions.
I have reached out to Skånetrafiken and asked them for what purpose they need these permissions. Their support has promised me that a accountable person will contact me soon, and when they do I will reflect on that as well.
Is this practice lawful?
The new European Privacy legislation, GDPR, states that I must be able to grant an app granular permissions: consent to some and not consent to others, as well as revoke given consent. They must also only ask for permissions that are reasonable for the scope of the app. Setting a profile picture is not a core feature of a fitness app. Knowing what other apps run on the device are not core features of a travel planning app.
In these interfaces, I am not granted those rights — which may be Google/Androids fault, not Skånetrafikens or Försvarsmakten’s. What however is their issue is the very far reaching and privacy invasive access the app wants — needlessly.