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

Norway's Consumer Council has filed a complaint about iCloud 8,600 word EULA.
Written by Stig Øyvann, Contributor

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.

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