Research Highlights

To Upgrade, or Not to Upgrade?

A headshot of Raveesh Mayya

Overview: In the paper, “Delaying Informed Consent: An Empirical Investigation of Mobile Apps’ Upgrade Decisions,” NYU Stern Professor Raveesh Mayya and co-author Siva Viswanathan (University of Maryland) examine how digital platforms manage data collection policy updates and explore the impact of delaying these policy adoptions.

Why study this now: Consumers have shown an increased desire to have more control over their personal data, as well as an expectation for online platforms to have responsible data privacy practices. Recently, tighter global regulations (e.g., General Data Protection Regulation, California Consumer Privacy Act) have been enacted in addition to policy changes by the platforms themselves (e.g., Apple's App Tracking Transparency, Android's Privacy Labels). What’s interesting about the digital platform policies approach is that these practices have significant flexibility when it comes to giving app developers time to meet these standards. This study researches the consequences of developers taking advantage of that flexibility. 

What the authors found: By installing nearly 14,000 apps on Android emulators, selected to represent the vast universe of apps on the Google Play Store, and detecting when each app upgraded to Android version 6.0, the researchers were able to quantify the impact of delaying the upgrade. Furthermore:

  • Delaying the upgrade results in decreased revenue and ratings on the Play Store
  • Maintaining the apps without upgrading doesn’t significantly mitigate the declines
  • The declines can be attributed to: (a) platforms algorithmically downgrading visibility of non-compliant apps, and (b) users increasingly noticing when apps do not offer them an option to reject certain permissions

What does this change: These findings show that app developers may strategically delay upgrades in order to keep collecting consumer data, and thus platform policymakers should be more purposeful when designing privacy policies and any flexibility in compliance deadlines. Platform policymakers should also ensure that developers are well-informed of the algorithmic penalties and its implications.

Key insight: There is a “strategic tradeoff between marketplace outcomes and the ability to collect data continuously,” say the co-authors. “The findings of our study highlight the need to carefully consider developers’ potential strategic behaviors while designing and implementing flexibility in policy enforcement.”

The research is forthcoming in Management Science.