Most people aren’t surprised to learn that apps can (and do) collect your personal data. A cursory read of the Terms of Service (ToS) of any app reveals this information. However, you may not know what kind of data your apps are collecting - or who they’re sharing it with.
Oversharing AppsNearly every app you use, particularly if it's free, shares your information in some form. In most cases, that personal data is generalized and shared non-specifically with advertisers for a variety of reasons - usually to generate more targeted ads that match your habits, preferences and likely interests.
Other popular apps that may be sharing too much include:
- Angry Birds: Accesses your phone ID, contacts and location data (and shares your location with third parties)
- Pandora: Accesses phone ID, location data and contacts (and shares your contacts)
- TextPlus 4: Accesses and sends phone ID information to ad companies
- Facebook: Many third-party apps on Facebook are heavy offenders in oversharing your private data
Oversharing Health and Fitness AppsThere are thousands of apps that let you track your health, create a personalized diet or fitness plan and help you organize your overall health strategies. In order to work, these apps ask for a lot of personal information - and some of them turn around and sell that information to advertisers.
A a report released by the FTC in May 2014 looked at a dozen health and fitness apps, and found that these apps collectively sent personal data to 76 different third parties. Among the data shared were names and email addresses, location, gender, diets, exercise habits and medical symptom searches.
How to Protect YourselfWhile some apps will disclose how user information is being used upfront, others might not be so straightforward. Here are steps you can take to prevent your data from being overshared with third parties through apps:
- Research apps and the companies that distribute them, including user reviews and mentions in industry publications, before you download them.
- When prompted by the app, opt out of location sharing.
- Check the privacy settings on your smartphone periodically and make sure they’re set as high as possible without compromising app functions. For example, map and directions apps like Google require your geo-location.
- Always update your apps when you’re alerted to a new version, as these updates often repair "bugs" found in earlier versions.
- Delete any apps you’re no longer using from your phone.