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Towards Dynamic Transparency: The AppTrans (Transparency for Android Applications) Project


University of Toronto



Project Leader(s)

Lisa Austin & David Lie


Our digital world relies upon data but its data practices are increasingly opaque -- to users who want to know whether these practices are consistent with their preferences and needs, to those who develop digital technologies and need to understand their workings and effects, and to the regulators who seek to ensure compliance with laws. We need to make data practices more transparent and we need to enlist technology itself through developing stronger transparency-enhancing technologies (TETs).

In this project, University of Toronto researchers created a prototype of such a TET, AppTrans (Transparency for Android Applications). It uses digital technologies to compare the declared data practices in the privacy policies of mobile apps to their actual (or potential) practices in order to flag potential discrepancies.

The goal of the tool was to establish feasibility for tools of this type, and it was not intended in its current form for broad deployment and use. Nonetheless, the results show that this type of tool is feasible and can offer regulators new insights into the activities that they regulate. For example, the researchers found significant non-compliance between the tested applications and their associated policies (average of 59.5%). They determined that this was often the result of the use of third party ad libraries or analytics libraries. The researchers also tested the readability of the privacy policies and found a large fraction of privacy policies written at a language level that is above that of many smartphone users.

Project deliverables are available in the following language(s):


OPC Funded Project

This project received funding support through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Contributions Program. The opinions expressed in the summary and report(s) are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Summaries have been provided by the project authors. Please note that the projects appear in their language of origin.

Contact Information

Lisa Austin
Professor and Chair in Law and Technology
Faculty of Law
University of Toronto
78 Queen’s Park
Toronto, ON M5S 2C5
(416) 946-7447

David Lie
Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering
Sandford Fleming 2001C
10 King’s College Road
Toronto, ON M5S 3G4
(416) 946-0251

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