Apple's 'convoluted and unclear' iCloud agreements break Norwegian law, says watchdog

Apple's 'convoluted and unclear' iCloud agreements break Norwegian law, says watchdog

Summary: Norway's Consumer Council has filed a complaint about iCloud 8,600 word EULA.

TOPICS: Cloud, Apple, EU

The Norwegian Consumer Council has filed a complaint over the terms and conditions of Apple's iCloud service, on the grounds they're in violation of several articles of Norwegian law governing marketing in the country.

The background for the complaint, filed with the Norwegian consumer ombudsman, comes from a study of the terms and conditions of seven cloud storage providers operating in the Norwegian market, conducted by the Consumer Council earlier this year. The study was carried out as a part of the Consumer Council's efforts to improve the terms under which digital services are offered to Norwegian consumers.

'Convoluted and unclear'

According to the official complaint document, a separate survey conducted for the Consumer Council last year shows that 40 percent of Norwegian consumers use cloud services. At the same time, very few of those consumers appear to be looking at the terms and conditions they're signing up to, mainly because end user licensing agreements are long and hard to understand. "The iCloud agreement is particularly bad" in that respect, the Consumer Council said. And, at more than 8,600 words, iCloud's terms and conditions are also "convoluted and unclear".

The complaint also notes that several of the cloud providers it looked into can terminate a user's access to the service without giving any reason for doing so, and some of the operators can access contents of the user's files.

However, the Consumer Council thinks that Apple's terms leave the most to be desired. Apple is the only service in the study that allows itself the right to change the agreement at its own discretion at any time, without notifying the user.

Unreasonable and unilateral terms

In the case of Norwegian users of the service, the terms and conditions fall under Norwegian law. However, according to the Consumer Council, they're not currently complying with the Norwegian Marketing Act.

The Council states that the agreement is unreasonable and unilateral, as the consumer has few rights whereas Apple reserves itself many, partially unreasonable, rights. Apple's right to unilaterally change the agreement is in violation of the Marketing Act's §22, according to the complaint text. This law applies whether the service is paid for or not.

"Cloud storage services rely on users' trust and confidence. However, the current terms undermine thism," Finn Myrstad, head of digital services unit at the Consumer Council, said in a statement. "It is important that consumer rights and privacy also apply to online services.

"We are convinced that all parties are better served with more user-friendly terms. Apple offers to store valuable information on behalf of its users, but gives itself the right to amend the agreement at its sole discretion. As consumers, we are left with no real rights or security. Receiving notice when terms change should be a bare minimum requirement. The fact that this can be done without informing the users is unacceptable."

The Norwegian Consumer Council has informed the European Commission's Expert Group on Cloud Service Contracts of its study of the seven cloud providers' terms and conditions, as well as today's complaint.

"We hope that the Ombudsman will use its mandate to address the issue of digital consumer rights, and that the European Commission Expert Group on Cloud Service Contracts will take our views into consideration when coming with their recommendations in a few months," Myrstad said.

ZDNet has asked Apple for a comment and will update the story if it receives one.

Read more on iCloud

Topics: Cloud, Apple, EU

Stig Øyvann

About Stig Øyvann

Stig spent some fifteen years working in the IT industry before upgrading to becoming a freelance technology writer. Mostly he writes for business IT magazines, but sometimes he turns his hand to consumer-oriented articles too. "A brand new digital camera is fun, but it’s a bulletproof server that makes the world go round" is Stig's point of view.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Breaks UK law too.

    "Apple allows itself the right to change the agreement at it’s own discretion at any time, without notifying the user." this is in breach of UK contract law; a contract is an agreement between two parties, and therefore requires two parties to agreee to changes.

    The UK exception - of course - is finacial services, who can do what the f*** they like.

    Any UK person who challenged a change in court, would win.
    • To clarify ...

      ... this is why the likes of Amazon send regular statements telling you that they've changed the agreement - the statement also says that if you continue to use the service, you therefore agree the change. Pushing the law, but legal. Not telling you of changes, and your right to opt out (by leaving) is illegal. No-one will prosecute, but you will have a remedy in a civil court (if you can establish that the change had a negative effect on your dosh, and they didn't tell you).
    • You have to remember though

      When Apple change it, they know better, and the consumer welcomes their new conditions.
      • Most agreements I have read have a unilateral change agreement.

        It is not only Apple it is of other companies as well. Any provider can change an agreement, the agreement wording is different for each provider but in essentially the same, "terms may be changed to fit our needs".
        It seems in the USA unilateral change agreements are SOP, while other countries have different laws protecting their citizens. Folks in the USA accept these terms other countries do not such as the Norwegian Consumer Council. Thus they want change agreements amended providing more rights to their consumers and also to apply to their laws. As the article states other companies are at asked to change as well.
        So, stop with the Apple bashing trolling.
        • Look Deeper

          It's not the change, it the total lack of any type of notification at all.
          Others will contact you on a change and offer options, even if they are very limited.
  • Unilateral 'agreements' can be invalid

    Now that I think about it, it looks to me as if unilateral agreements like Apple's could legally be considered 'contracts of adhesion' in the US. These are contracts in which one party essentially holds such disproportionate power that the other party has no ability to negotiate the terms of the agreement. I'm not familiar with the legal system's ruling against major corporations on this basis, but a lawsuit could be interesting.