Smart phones and apps; again…
Data researchers have found that a large majority of people are installing mobile applications on their phones without realising just how much data they’re sharing. Whilst the apps are required to seek permission before accessing certain information, it has transpired that some apps may be accessing more than users are aware of.
App developers and businesses who own these apps may try to hide their accountability by giving vague reasons as to why data collection is necessary for the app to function, but is that enough? When users first download an app or first use it, they’re usually prompted with pop-ups requesting access to information. However, these small pop-ups don’t always inform the user exactly how much information will be accessed, who they share this information with, and what is done with the information obtained.
And at the end of the day, knowledge is power; and a solid reason many organisations want access to this information is because they can use it to market more products and services to you.
Is all of the data they collect necessary?
Whilst some information may be absolutely necessary – like your location when using google maps to find out where you are and how to get to the place you’re heading too – is all of it really needed for the app to function? Our smartphones are not just to call and text people; they’re also our diaries, our calendars, our shopping lists, our stereos and even our bank cards. With this wealth of information, companies can use it or sell it to find out what we like, how much we would pay for things, and where we would get it from.
Researchers from a Networks Institute branch set out to discover exactly how much information these apps can extract without notifying owners and what can be done to restrict it. The researchers developed an app of their own to monitor data trafficking. Lumen Privacy Monitor “analyses the traffic apps send out, to report which applications and online services actively harvest personal data”, explained one researcher.
The research app checks all sorts of movement including what information other apps are accessing and if they’re sending it elsewhere outside of the phone, i.e. to be collected, or perhaps sold to a third party. Unsurprisingly, a lot of apps were found to tracks users’ personal information for purposes that appear less than likely to have been authorised. Free of charge social media platforms like Facebook track user data to tailor advertisements from other businesses, and Google and Yahoo were reportedly doing the same.
Apps also lifting unique device identifiers – so they can know who you are!
When the apps lift information from the user, it still may need to be linked to the user in order to direct marketing just for them. It’s no use having the information that “someone out there likes shopping for pink socks” without knowing who that is. Advertisements can work much better if you know who you are advertising to.
Researchers found that a quarter of tracker apps lift at least one unique device identifier for this reason. This is typically the 15 digit IMEI number that is unique to each mobile device.
Most smartphones have multiple apps, so with a number of tracked data being cross referenced, third parties could easily draw up a complete profile of any device holder. This way, companies could identify not only who this ‘pink socks enthusiastic’ is, but also how much they usually spend on socks, what time of day they’re more likely to make a purchase and, perhaps, if any of their friends are also enthusiasts of bright pink socks too?
Who knows the extent of what these apps can find out…
IMPORTANT: advice on this page is intended to be up-to-date for the 'first published date'.
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