If you’ve ever wondered why it always seems like advertisers follow you wherever you go, it might be because they do.
Recently, The Wall Street Journal investigated 101 Android and iPhone apps, and found that fifty-six of them transmitted phone ID data to outside parties, while forty-seven transmitted location information. (Five sent age, gender, and other personal data without consent.) The iPhones, in general, sent more data than the Androids. And the most widely shared detail was the phone’s unique ID number — called the Unique Device Identifier on the iPhone — conveniently, the least controllable user element.
The biggest data-mining culprits, according to the WSJ’s investigation, include popular apps Text Plus 4 (a text message enhancing app that allows you to send pictures of your face with your texts), Pandora (a personalized radio app), Grindr (a gay dating app), and Angry Birds (game).
A brief description of the misdeeds: TextPlus 4 is the worst offender, sending username/passwords, contacts, age/gender, location, phone IDs, and phone numbers to third parties and app owners; Pandora sends age/gender, location, and phone ID to third parties; Grindr sends username/password, age/gender, location, and phone ID; and Angry Birds does the same. The game Paper Toss sends information to eight different advertising companies. Both Google and Apple do not require app privacy policies.
After numerous reports surfaced regarding users’ privacy, the Mobile Marketing Association, which represents developers of phone applications as well as advertisers, announced that it would compile a new set of privacy guidelines to address the concerns of consumers in December. The Wall Street Journal reports that the MMA revised its code in 2008 (the same year Apple began selling iPhone apps) though its code has no explicit privacy provisions. That same month, the Federal Trade Commission announced that they were setting up a forensic lab for reviewing applications on iPads and smartphones, and also called for a “Do Not Track” registry for internet users.
The most worrying piece of this puzzle? It’s not that the apps are reporting your personal information in the first place — it’s that you rarely, if ever, have the option to turn off the tracking — on a regular computer, you can delete cookies, but that feature isn’t available on a phone.
So, what, if anything, can you do to keep your phone on lockdown? You can avoid free apps, since paid apps typically send less data to advertisers. Make sure to carefully read the privacy permissions for Apple, Google, and other app providers and make sure you’re absolutely fine with the data mining; it looks like, until more research is conducted, these two companies prefer to remain silent on the matter.