Surprise! Many Popular Apps Transmit Lots Of Data About You To Advertisers Without You Knowing About It

The Norwegian Consumer Council published an analysis of how popular apps are sharing user data with the behavioral ad industry. TechCrunch reports the findings. You might want to sit down for this:

A majority of the apps that were tested for the report were found to transmit data to “unexpected third parties” — with users not being clearly informed about who was getting their information and what they were doing with it. Most of the apps also did not provide any meaningful options or on-board settings for users to prevent or reduce the sharing of data with third parties.

“The evidence keeps mounting against the commercial surveillance systems at the heart of online advertising,” the Council writes, dubbing the current situation “completely out of control, harming consumers, societies, and businesses,” and calling for curbs to prevalent practices in which app users’ personal data is broadcast and spread “with few restraints.” 

“The multitude of violations of fundamental rights are happening at a rate of billions of times per second, all in the name of profiling and targeting advertising. It is time for a serious debate about whether the surveillance-driven advertising systems that have taken over the internet, and which are economic drivers of misinformation online, is a fair trade-off for the possibility of showing slightly more relevant ads.

“The comprehensive digital surveillance happening across the ad tech industry may lead to harm to both individuals, to trust in the digital economy, and to democratic institutions,” it also warns.


The 10 apps whose data flows were analyzed for the report are the dating apps Grindr, Happn, OkCupid,  and Tinder; fertility/period tracker apps Clue and MyDays; makeup app Perfect365; religious app Muslim: Qibla Finder; children’s app My Talking Tom 2; and the keyboard app Wave Keyboard.

Frankly,  I am not shocked by this because you have to assume that if you install an app on your phone, the possibility of it slurping up your data and sending it to a third party exists. And it is questionable if you could stop these apps from doing that. The one thing that I will note is that this report is heavily slanted towards the Android platform because there are more Android phones out there. The report points out that this is less of a problem on iOS. Though you have to do some work to make sure that info that you don’t want sent to advertisers isn’t sent to them as the relevant settings that limit this sort of thing are not on by default. But having said that, if you run iOS 13, they do seem to be effective.

The take home message is this. Assume that you’re being tracked and your data is being sent to third parties as there is nothing to suggest that this isn’t going on.

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