On Friday 15 May, I was at an event in the German Parliament about the power of consumers in the digital world, organised by the Green party. I participated because part of the event was a workshop about consumer protection for mobile devices.
A lot of programs people install on their Android devices do not respect their rights. It is common that those programs ask users to accept non-readable terms and conditions, reveal where the device and therefor the user currently is, access personal data like user's address books or text messages. Innocent looking apps like a torch light program are violating user's privacy. This is not me explaining the problem, that was what Carola Elbrecht from the German consumer protection organisation (VZBV) and other participants explained.
I gave an overview what the FSFE in particilar and the Free Software community in general are doing, and what problems we have. I explained them how we help users to install Free Software versions of Android on their phones, so they can have up to date software, and do not have to buy a new phone just because they need new software. How vendors tell consumers that they loose warranty when they install another operating system, and that we inform users that this is wrong. How we help people to install their software from a Free Software app market like F-Droid, where all the software guarantees consumers that they can use it for any purpose, that people around the world can study the source code and understand what the program is doing, and that everybody is allowed to change the apps, for example remove malicious features which compromise user's security. It is software which respects the user's rights instead of violating them.
Member of Parliament Nicole Maisch, who was responsible for the workshop, already knew about our work and asked us what politicians could do to help us. I highlighted that it would help the Free Software community if it is legally guaranteed that users have the right to install another operating system on mobile devices. That vendors have no right to hinder users doing this by technical measures and that it is clear that you do not loose your warranty. Furthermore I explained why it is important that apps developed by the public administration are Free Software, and are also offered outside of Google Play and the iTunes Store.
After the workshop I had a lot of good talks with different people, mainly from consumer protection organisation or with journalists.
Now just assuming you also want to know what you can do to protect consumer rights on mobile devices, here some suggestions: