Monday, February 26

Third Fewer Android Apps Due to GDPR

A research paper calculates that since the GDPR, there are far fewer apps on Google Play, and fewer new apps are being added. As a result, the study speaks of a lost generation of innovative apps, although the reality is more nuanced.


The researchers come from ZEW Mannheim, Universities of Zurich, East Anglia and Minnesota, and the paper is distributed by the US National Bureau of Economic Research. The scientists tracked 4.1 million apps between 2016 and 2019.

At the start of their study in 2016, Google Play counted 2.1 million apps. By the end of 2017, that had risen to 2.8 million, but that supply had fallen by the end of 2018 by no less than a third. That decrease coincided with the arrival of the GDPR in May 2018, forcing many digital products to revise their privacy approach.

The paper entitled ‘GDPR and the lost generation of innovative apps’ also states that in the period after May 2018, almost half the number of apps were added compared to the old-growth rate. At first glance, it seems that GDPR means that many apps have disappeared or have never been released due to the strict privacy rules.

But that claim requires at least as much nuance, including from Joel Waldfogel, one of the researchers himself. He nuances that the decrease in 2018 was a good thing on Twitter. “The apps that stopped had little use and did not comply with privacy legislation.”

He thinks it is more important that apps were added less quickly after 2018, but also nuances that it is not clear what happens under the hood of many apps. Some apps never made it through GDPR, but it’s not that there haven’t been successful apps since then that do comply with the law.

An additional nuance is that the apps that disappeared in 2018 accounted for only three percent of the total app use. In other words: It is mainly unpopular apps that have disappeared. For example, another app to play sounds or activate the flashlight. In addition, Android itself has evolved over the years and makes some functions of apps redundant.

Privacy specialists are also unimpressed by the paper. To The Register, privacy researcher Lukasz Olenjik notes that many matters such as requesting permission for data processing were already applicable pre-GDPR. He states that the exodus was mainly a moment for apps that were previously not in line to throw in the towel.

Privacy activist Max Schrems also does not see a very clear link. He does not speak about the study itself but notes that if GDPR were the big problem, many apps today would exist in the US and not in the EU. That has happened in some cases, such as with some US media outlets with a limited European audience, but not on a large scale.

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