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Advice in Data & IT

Reading privacy policies of the 20 most-used mobile apps takes 6h40

Our latest article on consent fatigue with regards to privacy policies prompted for some kind of follow-up. The market research insights that we used in that article were pretty old (2008) and an update was needed. That’s the purpose of today’s article. We discovered that privacy policies have greatly increased in length over the past 10 years. Mobile applications’ policies are on average 58% longer than the ones studied in 2008 and require 6 hours 40 minutes of reading time.
Consent fatigue can’t improve under those conditions.

Quick reminder

In our previous article we dealt with a 2008 study by McDonald and Cranor that screened 75 websites’ privacy policies and concluded that they were 2514 words on average. Extrapolating to 1462 websites visited each year, reading all those privacy policies would require some 30 working days.
The concept of consent fatigue pretty much emergend from that popular study.

How does it look like today

The world has changed a lot in the past 10 years. So have our online habits.
Mobile devices are dominating in terms of internet usage. In some countries it has reached almost 75% of usage (leaving only 25% for regular desktop access).
We still access websites (on our smartphones though) but mobile applications have become a preferred entrance to the online world for a large part. This led us to revamp a little bit the methodology used in 2008 and to focus on the most-used mobile apps rather than on websites.

The 20 most used mobile applications are our benchmark

To update the results on privacy policies length and consent fatigue, we used a list of the 20 most-used mobile applications in the world (source) as a starting point. We then looked for the privacy policy of each and every app and followed this methodology:

  • When a new policy was available (because of GDPR) we took this version
  • We took only english versions into account
  • We started to count the words at “introduction” and ended with the date of effect of the policy
  • We copied / pasted in a word document each privacy policy to document our work.

The results in brief

The average privacy policy is 3964 words in length, up 58% from the 2514 words found by McDonald and Cranor (2008) in their work.
This average was calculated taking every single policy into account although some of them (the longest actually) are shared among several of the most popular applications belonging either to Facebook or Google.
When redundant policies are excluded (for instance BitMoji’s because it’s the same as Snapchat, Facebook Messenger’s because it’s the same as Facebook or Google+ because it’s the same as Youtube) the average is back to 3710 words, up 47,5% from the 2008 results.
All 20 policies together are 79288 words in length. Excluding redundant policies leads to a total of 48218 words. This represents respectively 6 hours 40 minutes and 4 hours of reading time.
Reading time was estimated with Read-O-Meter (reading speed of 200 words per minute on average).

The results in details

Mobile applications. The 20 most used mobile applications :

  1. Whatsapp (6172 words) : link, archive
  2. Facebook (4524 words) : link, achive
  3. Facebook messenger (4524 words) : same as Facebook‘s
  4. Instagram (4510 words) : link, archive
  5. Snapchat (3906 words) : link, archive
  6. UC Browser (1981 words) : link, archive
  7. Uber (3521 words) : link, archive
  8. YouTube (4528 words) : link, archive
  9. SHAREit (1170 words) : link, archive
  10. Bitmoji (3906 words) : same as Snapchat‘s
  11. Google Search (4528 words): same as YouTube‘s
  12. Google Play (4528 words): same as YouTube‘s
  13. Google Maps (4528 words): same as YouTube‘s
  14. Gmail (4528 words): same as YouTube‘s
  15. iCloud (3237 words) : link, archive
  16. Amazon Mobile (2652 words) : link, archive
  17. Twitter (4980 words): link, archive
  18. Netflix app (3423 words): link, archive
  19. Google+ (4528 words): same as YouTube‘s
  20. Pinterest (3624 words): link, archive


Image : shutterstock

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Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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