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Ethics of Mobile Applications in the Apple Store


The past two decades have witnessed a rapid proliferation of information technology that have made major impactsEthics of Mobile Applications in the Apple Store on the different spheres of life. The excessive use and dependency on IT has made digital data one of the most valuable and critical components for businesses and individuals. Transition to post-industrial era also brought an alarming tendency of unregulated relationships in the digital realm. In fact, the increasing pervasiveness of IT in economic, political and social spheres has completely changed traditional set of priorities and brought new system of values. However, the conservatism and resistance of law system to adapt quickly to new environment has resulted in a constantly growing amount of unresolved ethical issues that are subject to heated debates. The shift to digital realm has evoked the need for new definitions of traditional ethical concepts. Ethical caveats of IT use were already recognized in 1970s, but it has not been until the last decade that significant attention has been given to it.

Mobile devices have become one of the mostly discussed aspects in the context of IT ethics. During the last decade, considerable improvements in telecommunications and informatics boosted rapid development of mobile communications and wireless networks, which intensified the use of mobile devices. It was reported that in 2015 sales of mobile devices reached around 2.5 billion items worldwide (Burke 2015). Clearly, such a huge amount of customers made the market of mobile devices an attractive destination for many mobile app developers. According to statistics, in 2015 there were 3 million mobile apps in the leading app stores (Statista (a) 2015) with the total revenue of $4.1 billion (Statista (b) 2015). The lack of effective mechanisms to control the development of mobile applications has left much room for developer in terms of privacy and security, making end users subjects to hidden operations. Mehrotta (2012) claims that in order to avoid ethical issues businesses need to make transparent statements with what they intend to do with user’s data. The current study is aimed at investigating the ethics of mobile application presented in the Apple Store and discover parties responsible for the control of mobile apps.


Literature Review

The past years has experienced a rapid and dramatic changes in the distribution of mobile applications. Until some few years ago, mobile applications had to be installed manually or be downloaded from the individual portals, thus limiting the ability of the users to acquire these applications. Mobile application stores such as Apple’s App store and google’s android market have completely revolutionalized the distribution of mobile applications. This channels of distribution dramatically lowered the gateway hurdle and opened a major market for small and medium sized companies. The mobile applications have continued to gain popularity at a considerably high pace. The Apple app store alone contained approximately 900 000mobile applications as of January 2013. This development, the competition and the growth of applications as observed in far reaching disciplines such as governments and ecommerce has led to the emergence of numerous ethical issues.

According to Khalid, Shihab & Naggapan (1), one of the main issues with application stores is the distribution of poor quality applications. App Store enables the users to review their downloaded applications based on their experiences with the applications. In addition to the star ratings that the users apply to their downloaded applications, users are also provided with the opportunity of commenting on their experiences with regard to how effective and efficient the downloaded applications enabled them to solve their problems. This unique capabilities and features enable to capture some of the important perceptions about these applications. Such reviews and commentary are directly related to the download counts and are a key measure on the success of the applications downloaded from the application stores (3).

According to Grodzinsky, Miller & Wolf (198-199), a quality software is a software application that effectively meets the objectives and the needs of the users, it is well tested, documented and maintainable. The research conducted by Khalid, Shihab & Nagappan (2-5), demonstrated numerous issues with the quality of applications on App Store. The free provision of mobile application have led to a massive distribution of applications that are not well tested and thus placing the users at risk. The advocates for the open mobile application distribution argue that the developers ensure quality of these applications as one of the primary methods of improving their corporate reputation. However, volunteer developers will often not do quality works if there is no monetary compensation. The research study by Khalid, Shihab & Nagappan (2-5) demonstrated this aspect in which most applications on AppStore were found to be of low quality and some could not effectively solve the challenges of the users. According to Henze, Pielot, Poppinga, Schinke & Boll (1-5), the ease of distribution of mobile applications have led to developers using the application stores to experiment their applications thus exposing the negligent users to risks of using prototypes for critical and sensitive operations.

Analysis into Apple Store

Apart from the review of the existing literature on the ethical issues of the mobile applications in the App Store, we sought to conduct a research in order to understand some of the main concerns of the users on the mobile applications. We began by selecting 20 of the most popular applications on App as defined by the iOS and the number of downloads made on the applications. The researcher ensured that the selected applications have approximately 500 or more reviews and have been downloaded at least by 100 users. In the research, we also ensured that the selected applications are of average rating (3 or better) and that the other half of the applications are of low quality (below 3). This enabled the researcher to identify the complaints in both the high rating applications as well as the low rating applications. Our research involved a thorough and comprehensive analysis into the reviews that the users publish on different applications. In our review, we observed significantly many different comments but we categorized them in terms of 12 different categories.

After the above scrutiny, the researcher ended up with a total of 15 applications in different disciplines. The main source of data for this research was the reviews and commentaries that the users wrote for the different applications. Although most of the applications of App Store do not display these reviews openly, the application of Appcomments enabled the researcher to be able to view these comments for the different applications. As this research study was mainly focused and centered on the complaints that the users have on the different applications, the researcher focused on the commentaries on the 1 and 2 star reviews. It is important that manual analysis of the comments and reviews was significantly time consuming and tiresome. As such, the research randomly selected the reviews to use for the specific applications thus reducing the time and resources required for the research study. This review was done on an iterative fashion such that after the identification of a particular type of complaint, the researcher re-assessed the previously assessed reviews to find out whether the complaints have been previously raised. However, in our review, we observed that there was a considerable number of users whose reviews for the particular apps were not specific to any category of complaint.

The results demonstrated 12 different types of complaints that the users had for the different applications as collected from App Store. The main types of complaints included functional errors, crashing of the applications, lack of features required by the users, challenges using the application with regard to network problems, poor design of the application interfaces, numerous hidden costs in the course of the users applying the application for different operations, compatibility issues with some smart devices running the iOS mobile operating system, lack of confidentiality and privacy, un-interesting content including unwanted advertisements that consumer the resources of the mobile devices and heavy requirement of processing resources. The table below shows some of the main categories of complaints and the frequency at which the complaints were mentioned by the users during their reviews.

Complaint Frequency
App crushing 14
Hidden costs 22
Functional errors and faults 5
Poor design of the interface 21
Lack of privacy and confidentiality 25
Heavy resource utilization and requirement 22
Uninteresting content and advertisements 42
Issues with compatibility with the hardware and other applications and hardware 13
Unresponsive applications 12

According to our review, the problem of hidden costs, lack of privacy and confidentiality and privacy, removal of features and abilities important to the users were cited as the most impactful challenges with most of the App Store applications. For the developers of these applications, these issues calls for means and methods of enhancing trust and moving with the expectations of the users during the development process. Hidden costs was the second most impactful ethical issue that the users raised and explained to have led to their dissatisfaction with the applications. The led to the deterioration of the trust between the users and the application developers. Application crashing, hidden costs and feature removal ranked significantly high with regard to their frequency as well as their impacts. This meant that the occurrence of these issues was considerably high and that they are negatively perceived by the users.

One class of complaints that received much of the attention of the researcher was the complaints that resulted or were connected to updates to the applications. It is however important to understand that the researcher could only understand whether the issue with the application was as a result of an update if the user mentioned that on their reviews. However, there is a possibility that other complaints could also be related to update issues but the users never mentioned these. According to the research of the study, approximately 16% of the users mentioned the most recent update on the applications as the main sources of the challenges using the applications. In 13% of the reviews, the users mentioned of functional challenges and errors resulting from one of the latest updates on the applications. It was also noted that updates included requests to the users for product features that had been previously removed from the application, but which came at a fee. It was observed that most developers initially released free applications with the objective of monetizing them by transforming the previously free content to paid content and features. In the review, approximately 11% of the users complained on hidden costs that were required after an update was implemented on the application. Moreover, 16% of the users complained that updates led to the removal of features that were considered important for the users.

Future of Apple’s App Store

Technology is rapidly making its roots at the heart of most operations that individuals and organizations involve themselves in. From its origin with the advent of the IPhone’s App Store in the year 2007, to an industry that could be potentially worth more than $100 billion by the year 2015, the mobile app industry has experienced radical and unprecedented growth. According to Rakestraw, Eunni & Kasuganti (2013), forecasts show that the industry have a significantly bright future. However, Rakestraw, Eunni & Kasuganti (2013) explains that the main ethical issues as discussed above still pose as some of the main challenges to the development of the industry. Moreover, the advancement of application development organizations and corporations have become a major threat for the App Store. Rakestraw, Eunni & Kasuganti (2013) explains that in a research conducted by Cameron (2010), approximately 58.6% of the app developers prefer to develop android application while the support for App Store applications has dropped to approximately 35%.

Works Cited;
  • Burke, K. “Gartner Lowers 2015 Mobile Device Sales Outlook, 2015.” Marketwatch, 2015, <https://www.marketwatch.com/story/gartner-lowers-2015-mobile-device-sales-outlook-2015-07-07>. Accessed 15 October 2016
  • Grodzinsky , F rances; Miller, Keith W .; and W olf, Marty J., “Ethical Issues in Open Source Software” (2003). Computer Science & Information T echnology Faculty Publications. Paper 20. <https://digitalcommons.sacredheart.edu/computersci_fac/20> Accessed 16 November 2016.
  • Henze, Niels., Pielot, Martin., Poppinga, Benjamin., Schinke, Torben. And Boll, Susanne. “My App is an Experiment: Experience from User Studies in Mobile App Stores”, pp. 1-11.
  • Khalid, Hammad., Shihab, Emad. And Nagappan, Meiyappan. “What Do Mobile App Users Complain About? A Study on Free iOS Apps”, pp. 1-6.
  • Luke Stangel, “Apple statistics from wwdc 2013,” <https://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2013/06/11/14-eye-popping-apple-statistics-from.html>   Accessed 15 October 2016.
  • Mehrotra, M. C. 2012, “Ethics: Its Importance, Role, and Code in Information Technology.” International Journal of Advanced Research in Computer Science and Software Engineering, vol. 2, no. 7, pp. 417-421.
  • Rakestraw, Thomas. Eunni, Rangamohan., and Kasuganti, Rammohan. “The mobile apps industry: A case study” Journal of Business Cases and Applications, Vol 1, no. 1, pp. 1-26.
  • Statista (a).“Number of Apps Available in Leading App Stores as of July 2015.”  Statista, 2015, <https://www.statista.com/statistics/276623/number-of-apps-available-in-leading-app-stores>. Accessed 15 October 2016
  • Statista (b). “Worldwide Mobile App Revenues in 2015, 2015 and 2020 (in billion U.S. dollars).” Statista, 2015, <https://www.statista.com/statistics/276623/number-of-apps-available-in-leading-app-stores>. Accessed 15 October 2016


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