A couple of days ago Androidpolice reported that Google will institute a new policy, requiring all app developers who offer any app costing money (including those offering in-app purchases) to list their physical address. This information will then be published on the developers’ profiles. Many of these app developers are not big companies but rather hobbyists or the proverbial guy working from his (or his parents’) garage. For them this new policy means revealing their home-address to the world. While it allows developers to comply with current EU consumer legislation, the method to achieve this, which cannot be opted out from, places an unnecessary heavy privacy burden on the developers.
EU Consumer Law
Google’s new policy does not come out of nowhere, but seems to be an implementation of the European Union Consumer Rights Directive. In this Directive it is stated that for distance selling contracts to be binding, such as those made in online stores like the Google Play store, it is required that “the trader” reveals certain information about himself to the consumer. Article 6 of the Directive reads (emphasis added):
Before the consumer is bound by a distance or off- premises contract, or any corresponding offer, the trader shall provide the consumer with the following information in a clear and comprehensible manner:
(b) the identity of the trader, such as his trading name;
(c) the geographical address at which the trader is established and the trader’s telephone number, fax number and e-mail address, where available, to enable the consumer to contact the trader quickly and communicate with him efficiently and, where applicable, the geographical address and identity of the trader on whose behalf he is acting;
Who is the trader?
Thus, the question is: Who is the trader? Is it Google Play; then it would suffice that the address of Google Play and not that of the individual developer is published. However, if the ‘trader’ is the (individual) developer, then he or she should make available this information to the consumer. Google’s new policy shows that they consider the developers to be “the trader”.
The formulation of Article 6 of the Directive is such that this information should be made available before the consumer is bound to the contract. Hence, if this information is published on an invoice which is automatically generated, it would follow that upon receiving the invoice the consumer would be bound. However, Google requires that such information is made publicly available before any purchase is even made:
After you’ve [the developer] added an address, it will be available on your app’s detail page to all users on Google Play.
This shifts the point in time of the consumer being ‘bound’ as Article 6 implies. By doing so, it simplifies the process of determining later on when a consumer was bound by the contract (should this ever come up). On the flip side it places a heavy burden on some traders, in particular the at-home-developer of an app, to give up their home-address to anyone using the Google Play store. The question is whether this is method chosen by Google, from which the developers cannot opt-out of, is not too drastic.
Other app stores
We will have to see how other app stores, like Microsoft’s ‘Apps for Windows’ store, will respond. For example Microsoft has put in its App Developer Agreements that they too do not act as the trader, but rather that the developer of the app does and they are the mere agent or commission. Hence here too the developer is marked as a ‘trader’ in light of the Directive and he, not Microsoft, should have a policy for communicating his address prior to the consumer being bound by the contract. From the Microsoft App Developer Agreement:
you [the developer, AB] appoint Microsoft to act as your agent or commissionaire, as applicable, for these purposes and you acknowledge that you, not Microsoft, are the distributor of the App and/or In-App Product.
Developers have no control over the app stores’ design
Those developers using an app store to distribute their apps are limited in their options to communicate with the consumer. It is the app store operator that decides over the design of the store and the information available, not the developer. There is not a lot the developer can influence. The app store publicizes the app, it governs the payment procedure and emails the receipts under its own name. The developer can exercise no influence in any of these steps, other than supplying the required information to the app store. Therefore, it is the app store operator that decides whether, and how, the developer can comply with the EU Consumer Rights Directive and how much privacy the developer will have to give up in return.
We should not criticise Google Play for allowing developers to comply with current EU Directives, however, we could question its method and in turn seek alternative ways to inform the consumers, which place a less heavy privacy burden on some developers. A good example would be by adding the developer’s physical address on the invoice which is only sent to the consumer, not the world. Furthermore, it would be interesting to see if Google also applies this new policy to those developers which have created apps that are intended to be solely distributed in countries outside of the EU. We will find out on 30 September 2014 when the policy takes effect.