For many, the question of an app tracking your browser history may not be such a big deal. After all, you’re just checking recipes, directions, and may be looking for the latest DVD releases.
But there are more data available on your phone via apps than you may realize and your browsing history is just a small part and – since app developers are more individual now, rather than the trusted sources of times past – consumers need to be particularly cautious about what they download (and what is pre-installed) on their smartphones. Where there used to be a reasonable expectation of professionalism and respect for privacy from most large-scale app developers, nowadays it could be your gardener or the high school kid down the street.
Plus, while an SMS app that needs access to your contact list may seem harmless, it’s the way the information is harvested and sold that makes providing different information via different apps quite risky.
What Type of Data is Collected
In order to function, apps need to request permissions from the user. This makes sense for apps like GPS who need to know your location or a QRP scanner to use your camera. Other information they will request can include:
- Device History
- Cellular Data Information
- WiFi Information
- ID and Call information
Which Apps Collect Information?
All apps must request permissions to work, although some ask for a lot more than others. Research shows that business, health, and finance apps are just as risky as game apps and more than half of Android’s app developers are unique developers, rather than established, reputable sources but just because a company is large and reputable, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily safe.
For example, Investorplace.com identified 10 apps, sites, and companies that have more of your data than you realize which some may find surprising including Amazon, Uber, Fitbit, Google, Spotify, Apple, and various social media apps.
Some apps can reportedly still track you and/or your activity, even after you uninstall them.
Alarmingly, let’s say you have an app for grocery shopping. That app might need a few minor permissions (calculator, GPS, browser history) while you have another tap – maybe for sharing with friends on social media – which needs permission to access your contacts, camera, and social media accounts.
What you may not know is each of these apps – although different – may sell the information to a third party library which means you essentially are giving much more data to one third-party without realizing it.
Additionally, there are spy apps that are often designed for parents to be able to keep tabs on their children but which can be alarmingly invasive. While it may give some parents a feeling of security, remember that if you can do it, it probably can be done to you.
What Is The Data Used For?
You know how you have shortcuts to your favorite websites automatically available as soon as you open your browser, even though you never booked marked it? That is because you have visited those sites regularly and your browser knows they’ll likely be your desired URL as you open your browser. This is one-way data is used.
While much of the data is used to improve your (and other peoples’) user experiences, Scientific American reported that seven in 10 apps share your data with third-party services and not all third-party services are harmless. In addition, some apps are even more egregious and can find out sensitive information that can compromise your identity, health information, and financial information.
Why Do They Do This?
The bottom line is money. Consumer information and behaviors are like gold to those in the marketing industry so the more they understand about what their ideal customer’s habits, likes, and dislikes are, the more they are able to tailor-make their advertising campaigns. This makes data collection an incredibly lucrative venture for many app developers.
Imagine how valuable it would be for you to know what the lives of a typical chocolate-lover is like (their financial status, locations, ages, etc.) if you owned a chocolate factory. The same applies here. App developers often use third-party libraries to make money from the collection of data that their apps can collect.
What Can You Do To Stop It?
The first step to stop your smartphone from collecting data is to determine, first, what permissions you have given.
When an app is initially installed it asks for permissions and while it may seem tedious to read through them, it’s important to do so. You may discover – once you’ve chosen to download an app and see the requested permissions – that doing so might give the app access to information you would rather not share. So take that extra few minutes to read through the permissions before tapping, “Allow.”
Beyond that, there are a few other steps you can take to limit the amount of data you share unknowingly with apps on your smartphone:
The permissions for apps can be disabled but the process is different depending on which operating system you are using. Also, disabling a permission may cause the app not to function properly in which case you would need to decide if the app is worth giving that permission too.
- For Android:
Go to Settings -> Apps and Notifications -> Tap on the specific app -> you will see which permissions they have. To disable the permission, tap to toggle it.
- For iPhone:
Go to Settings -> Scroll past Privacy -> to list of individual apps -> tap any app to see permissions. To disable, tap to toggle. (Note you can also sometimes change the times that apps have access which can also be an option).
Uninstalling an app that has questionable or worrisome permissions is, of course, another option.
- For Android:
Go to Settings -> Applications -> Manage Applications -> Locate your app in the list and tap it ->Tap Uninstall and confirm the uninstall.
Alternatively, if there is a shortcut on your home screen, you can tap and hold, and drag to uninstall as it pops up.
- For iPhone
Go to settings -> Usage Tab -> Tap on the app you want to delete -> confirm delete
Use A VPN
A VPN is a Virtual Private Network which encrypts the information you send and receive online. While it will not protect all of your data, it will prevent apps from being able to monitor your internet use and browser history. In addition to using a VPN, you can download other protections like antivirus and antimalware but it’s important to always check the permissions as well as the popularity of these things. Read the reviews and ensure you are working with a reputable company.
NetsanityVPN uses the proven technology and security that Netsanity is known for. After protecting kids all over the world, with our parental control service, NetsanityVPN offers customers with Apple and some Android devices a secure way to connect and communicate through the public internet without any privacy or logging concerns. NetsanityVPN provides customers with secure connectivity without the need for any app to be downloaded from the app store. During our beta and initial launch period, NetsanityVPN will target US-based consumers. After the successful beta, Netsanity will offer convenient and automatically-configured VPN servers globally. Try NetsanityVPN free for 7 days.