Are your apps tracking you? More than 9 in 10 Americans feel they’ve lost control of their personal data to companies who mine data from downloaded apps, social media, and more. However, you don’t exactly need to use social media for your data to be compromised. In an experiment, researchers could predict what users would post to their account with 95% accuracy – even if they never had an account, to begin with. Collectively we’ve been generating 250 million terabytes of new data every second on the internet. Developers use this data to generate more ad revenue from their apps; and because of this, the data economy for in-app advertising will reach $234 billion by 2025.
In other words, developers are tracking your data to personalize the ads they present you to increase the likelihood of you liking it. Your “Advertising ID” is where this information is stored and is where developers collect your data from. It’s linked to your phone’s permanent hardware identifiers, such as your MAC address, Android ID, or IMEI.
Google’s Policy allows developers to collect identifiers and Advertising IDs, but developer’s do not have permission to combine these identifiers without consent. Moreover, permanent hardware identifiers can’t be used to target ads. According to one study, 1,700 Android apps collected a permanent violation of Google’s privacy policies. Google on the issue, “We take these issues very seriously… and will take action when [apps] do not comply with our policies.” It’s important to understand Google also admits they’re unable to enforce privacy policies outside of their own ad networks.
More information on how data mining happens can be found in the infographic. Here’s how you can protect your data:
Use a password manager. Your best passwords aren’t memorable. For example, a random string of characters stored in Keychain. Reusing passwords puts all your accounts at equal risk of a breach.
Next, use a VPN. A VPN prevents other users on the same network from accessing your data. Additionally, a VPN keeps the internet open – getting around filtering and censors. Never trust a free VPN.
Knowing this information, what are the worst apps for privacy and how do you avoid them? First, Facebook. Check your privacy settings and permissions regularly. Choose the most limited settings to maintain functionality. Also, avoid any sweepstakes and quizzes that require third-party access to your account. Participating in them can share your and your friends’ data. In 2013, Facebook admitted to accidentally leaking information gathered on users containing phone numbers and email addresses that users hadn’t shared.
Be wary of flashlight apps as well. In 2013, the developers of “Brightest Flashlight Free” settled with the FTC after allegations that the app failed to inform users it shared their location data and identifiers. Instead, the flashlight built into your operating system.
You may be oversharing permissions with your rideshare and delivery apps. In 2015, Tim Cook (Apple CEO) threatened to move Uber from the App Store after learning the app was collecting iOS users’ hardware identifiers.
Similar instances have gaming apps as well. More information on the worst apps for privacy and how to avoid them can be found below.
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