Here’s how you can outsmart privacy invading apps from snatching your data

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apps that collect personal data | iTMunch

By now, you might have already heard (and probably sick of hearing) the phrase – data is the new oil. However, it is being said around the world only because it is true. It is no surprise that the big tech titans have been preying on our personal information for a long time now. They haven’t just been using but also heavily capitalizing on our smartphone usage to track our everyday activities, location and much more to sell it off to advertising agencies. 

It is important that we are aware of the apps that collect personal data. It is high time now that we take charge of our data privacy and safety and in this blog, we’ll show you how exactly you can achieve that. 

First, let us understand what exactly are we protecting our data from, what are iPhone app privacy labels and the trillion dollar Apple-Facebook privacy war.

Who are we protecting our data from?

First and foremost, and obviously, from cybercriminals and hackers. According to research by Cybersecurity Ventures, cybercrime is expected to cause damages of US$6 trillion in 2021 across the globe [1]. Moreover, by 2025, the cost of global cybercrime is expected to grow by 15% per annum and is expected to reach US$10.5 trillion in the next 5 years. This is up from US$3 trillion in 2015. 

Hackers make a hell lot of money by breaking into your system and stealing your personal information. They do so by either selling your data on the black market or using your information to steal your identity.

They don’t necessarily break into your system, they also hack into the servers of the big corporations, like Facebook, and other apps that collect personal data to get their hands on massive amounts of data.

You are also protecting yourself from advertisers & ad agencies. To show us the most relevant ads, marketers and advertisers want a ton of information about us, from us. The more, the better. They want to know your gender, age, where you live, what you like and much more in order to understand your spending habits. 

For this, they need your purchase history using which they predict if you’d be interested in buying your products. Ad algorithms also use your information to figure out what your likes and dislikes are and what you’d be interested in buying.

This is why it is absolutely crucial to safeguard yourself and your data on your smartphone, personal computers and other devices.

What is the iPhone app privacy label?

It is not breaking news that social media companies like Facebook and Instagram have been leveraging With the increasing dependency on our smartphones. There’s an insurmountable amount of data that these apps collect without you knowing. iPhone app privacy labels have been created to show you how much of your data is being accessed by apps on your phone.

Cloud storage company pCloud closely examined the App Store’s app privacy labels and created a rank list of apps by the percentage of personal data they collect [2]. They also tell you the amount of data these apps pass on to third-party websites and apps.

The study found that 80% of apps on App Store use your personal information for advertising their own products as in-app promotions and third-parties. 

According to their research, Facebook and Instagram topped the list of apps collecting personal information for their benefit. The list also included apps you probably love like Uber, UberEats, eBay, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, YouTube Music, Booking.com, Reddit, AirBnB, Nike, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon, Bumble, Disney+, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tinder, Hulu, Spotify and many, many more.

It also found that about 52% of apps share your personal data with third parties. Meaning, these apps pass on your data to third parties. Hootsuite and BuzzSumo are apps that collect personal data to enable people to analyze and ultimately sell products and services to you.

Seeing apps that you love and depend on in these lists can be overwhelming. But are there any apps that use less personal data? To your surprise, yes. pCloud also listed the safest to use apps in terms of data privacy. The list includes Netflix, Signal, Clubhouse, Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, Shazam, Skype, Telegram, Zoom, Shop, BBC iPlayer, Buzzfeed, Discord and Shein.

How was this study conducted? pCloud used Apple’s privacy label feature in the App Store. The labels categorize all the data that can be collected by apps on users into 14 categories and how they’re used. The sections analyzed by pCloud were ‘Developer’s advertising or Marketing’ and ‘Third Party Advertising’. The first was done to understand which applications collect the most data for marketing their app. The latter was used to identify the worst apps for data sharing with third parties.

SEE ALSO: Facebook is building Instagram for kids, here’s why this is a really bad idea

The trillion dollar Facebook-Apple privacy war

Facebook Apple privacy war | iTMunch

One of the two biggest tech companies in the world, Apple and Facebook, are currently at was – a privacy war. The two have been in conflict with regards to the privacy of their respective product users. It isn’t even a cold war anymore, the top executives of these tech titans have gone ahead and said not-so-sweet things about each other. 

At the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference conducted in January 2021, Tim Cook commented on Facebook saying:

“We can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good engagement. A company like that does not deserve our praise, it deserves reform.”

As reported by The Information, Facebook is planning on filing an antitrust lawsuit against Apple. The company said We believe Apple is behaving anti-competitively by using their control of the App Store to benefit their bottom line at the expense of app developers and small businesses.”

Now that tech giant execs like Tim Cook are also trying to figure out ways to prioritize privacy, it is high time that we also start taking our privacy in our own hands.

5 ways you can protect yourself from privacy tracking apps

Here are 5 ways you can protect yourself from apps collecting personal information.

1. Disable Facebook third-party advertising

Facebook collects a horrendous amount of personal information, including your – likes, dislikes, friends, services you use, products you have bought, websites you’ve visited, your political views, your location and much more. 

The Cambridge Analytica scandal is proof of how problematic this can be. Data of over 87 million Facebook users was recorded by Cambridge Analytica and sold to be used in political campaigns of Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and officials involved in the Brexit vote.

One way to safeguard your information is to control who can see the posts and information you share on Facebook. You can do this by making your posts and data visible only to friends. Though this won’t hide anything from Facebook itself, it will keep the data safe from being discovered by outside parties.

You can also very easily opt out of targeted ads on the social media platform’s ad preferences page. Once you’re on this page, you can switch all options to either ‘No’ or ‘No One’. 

However, it is important to note that the platform has code that’s capable of tracking your activity in a great number of free Android and iOS apps. Meaning, even if you change your ad preferences within the Facebook platform, your activity will still be tracked by Facebook elsewhere.

SEE ALSO: A complete Facebook data breach & privacy leak timeline (2005 to 2021)

2. Use ToS;DR

Privacy policies talk about how the company/website/app collects data. It also clearly states what personal information is being collected and how they’re collecting it. 

Privacy policy is essentially a legal agreement and no one should sign a legal document without reading it thoroughly, right? But there might be very few people on this planet who actually read the privacy policy of websites and apps. 

In fact, a survey of 2,000 consumers in the United States conducted by Deloitte found that 91% of people agree to legal terms and services conditions without reading them [3]. Reason being – they are (purposefully) really long, confusing and full of legal-lingo. 

ToS;DR (Terms of Service; Didn’t Read) aims to help you out in this area. ToS;DR basically helps you decipher the hefty, confusing legal terms used by apps to help you understand what exact personal information they collect.

The crowdfunded-service flags shady looking parts of privacy policies and works out their legal implications. Then, It grades apps and services between A (best) to E (worst) which gives users a data point on how its terms are stacked up. 

For example: ToS;DR has marked Facebook an E, flagging the following concerns:

  • Facebook uses your data for many purposes
  • App required for this services requires broad device permissions
  • Your identity is used in ads that are shown to others personal data is given to third parties
  • Your biometric data is collected
  • The service can read your private messages
  • Facebook stores your data whether you have an account or not
  • This service gathers information about you through third parties

And many, many more.

You can add the extension of ToS;DR to your browser to understand the privacy policy of different websites.

3. Keep clearing your browsing history

When you visit a website, your IP address is provided with a ‘cookie’. This cookie is essentially a tracking parameter that enables the website to follow your activity on the internet. Cookies help in keeping a record of whatever you’ve done on the internet. 

Remember when you re-visited a website and your credentials were saved? It is because of cookies. Clearing your browsing history regularly will help you keep apps collecting personal information at bay.

Why exactly are these websites following you around online? Well, they aren’t essentially interested in what you are viewing or buying. They are interested in knowing your likes and dislikes, the articles you read and the things you search for. If you keep deleting your browsing history, you will be able to blind the eyes of these websites and services.

SEE ALSO: Google Chrome vs Microsoft Edge: Which browser is better?

4. Use search engines that don’t track your activity

At more than 75%, Google continues to be the market leader of search engines. However, obviously, it collects a lot of your personal information [4]. Google uses this information to provide you a better experience, and of course, shower you with ads – search ads, display ads and ads on YouTube.

To protect your information, you can choose to switch over to other search engines, like Bing. Though it also collects some information, surely not to the extent to which Google does. Also, Bing collects information only when users are logged into their Microsoft account.

This isn’t your only option. In fact, there are better, more secure options. Basically, you need to go for search engines that don’t run JavaScript. These include Bitclave, DuckDuckGo, Gibiru and StartPage.

5. Use VPN

A Virtual Private Network is the best defense you can have against privacy-related issues online. VPM services help you by creating anonymous web browsing experiences by tunneling your internet signal via a secure protocol and encrypting all of the personal data inside. 

This translates to – no prying eyes can see or track what you are doing. Websites, government agencies, Malicious actors, and Internet Service Providers won’t have access to any of your internet activity or information. 

Unlike many of the other tips on this list, you’re not just protecting a single browser or device, either. Most VPNs can be set up on routers, so that your entire internet connection is protected from every angle, meaning you are good to go on any browser or device.

SEE ALSO: What is Google Privacy Sandbox & its effect on the ad tech industry

For more latest IT news and updates, keep reading iTMunch

Image Courtesy

Featured Image: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Image 1: Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Sources

[1] Cybersecurity Ventures (2020) “Cybercrime To Cost The World $10.5 Trillion Annually By 2025” [Online] Available from: https://cybersecurityventures.com/hackerpocalypse-original-cybercrime-report-2016/ [Accessed May 2021]

[2] pCloud (2021) “Invasive Apps” [Online] Available from: https://blog.pcloud.com/invasive-apps/ [Accessed May 2021]

[3] Deloitte (2017) “2017 Global Mobile Consumer Survey: US edition The dawn of the next era in mobile” [Online] Available from: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/technology-media-telecommunications/us-tmt-2017-global-mobile-consumer-survey-executive-summary.pdf [Accessed May 2021]

[4] Smart Insights (2020) “Search engine marketing statistics 2020” [Online] Available from: https://www.smartinsights.com/search-engine-marketing/search-engine-statistics/ [Accessed May 2021]

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