In this article, we discuss mHealth apps and their potential to influence the user’s behaviour in increasingly persuasive ways. More specifically, we call attention to the fact that mHealth apps often seek to not only influence the health behaviour of users but also their economic behaviour by merging health and commercial content in ways that are hard to detect. We argue that (1) such merging of health and commercial content raises specific questions concerning the autonomy of mHealth app users, and (2) consumer law offers a promising legal lens to address questions concerning user protection in this context. Based on an empirically informed ethical analysis of autonomy, we develop a fine-grained framework that incorporates three different requirements for autonomy that we call “independence,” “authenticity,” and “options.” This framework also differentiates between three different stages of mHealth app use, namely installing, starting to use, and continuing to use an app. As a result, user autonomy can be analysed in a nuanced and precise manner. Since the concept of autonomy plays a prominent, yet poorly understood role in unfair commercial practice law, we utilize the ethical analysis of autonomy to guide our legal analysis of the proper application of unfair commercial practice law in the mHealth app domain.
This article argues that big data’s entrepreneurial potential is based not only on new technological developments that allow for the extraction of non-trivial, new insights out of existing data, but also on an ethical judgment that often remains implicit: namely the ethical judgment that those companies that generate these new insights can legitimately appropriate (the fruits of) these insights. As a result, the business model of big data companies is essentially founded on a libertarian-inspired ‘finders, keepers’ ethic. The article argues, next, that this presupposed ‘finder, keepers’ ethic is far from unproblematic and relies itself on multiple unconvincing assumptions. This leads to the conclusion that the conduct of companies working with big data might lack ethical justification.