To read this content please select one of the options below:

When the mobile app is free, the product is your personal data

Spyros E. Polykalas (Ionian University, Kefalonia, Greece)
George N. Prezerakos (University of West Attica, Egaleo, Greece)

Digital Policy, Regulation and Governance

ISSN: 2398-5038

Article publication date: 15 January 2019

Issue publication date: 6 March 2019




Mobile devices (smartphones, tables etc.) have become the de facto means of accessing the internet. While traditional Web browsing is still quite popular, significant interaction takes place via native mobile apps that can be downloaded either freely or at a cost. This has opened the door to a number of issues related to privacy protection since the smartphone stores and processes personal data. The purpose of this paper is to examine the extent of access to personal data, required by the most popular mobile apps available in Google Play store. In addition, it is examined whether the relevant procedure is in accordance with the provisions of the new EU Regulation.


The paper examines more than a thousand mobile apps, available from the Google Play store, with respect to the extent of the requests for access to personal data. In particular, for each available category in Google Play store, the most popular mobile apps have been examined both for free and paid apps. In addition, the permissions required by free and paid mobile apps are compared. Furthermore, a correlation analysis is carried out aiming to reveal any correlation between the extent of required access to personal data and the popularity and the rating of each mobile app.


The findings of this paper suggest that the majority of examined mobile apps require access to personal data to a high extent. In addition, it is found that free mobile apps request access to personal data in a higher extent compared to the relevant requests by paid apps, which indicates strongly that the business model of free mobile apps is based on personal data exploitation. The most popular types of access permissions are revealed for both free and paid apps. In addition, important questions are raised in relation to user awareness and behavior, data minimization and purpose limitation for free and paid mobile apps.


In this study, the process and the extent of access to personal data through mobile apps are analyzed. Although several studies analyzed relevant issues in the past, the originality of this research is mainly based on the following facts: first, this work took into account the recent Regulation of the EU in relation to personal data (GDPR); second, the authors analyzed a high number of the most popular mobile apps (more than a thousand); and third, the authors compare and analyze the different approaches followed between free and paid mobile apps.



Polykalas, S.E. and Prezerakos, G.N. (2019), "When the mobile app is free, the product is your personal data", Digital Policy, Regulation and Governance, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 89-101.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles