Which App is the Mole?
If you’re one of the estimated 73.3 million people in the United States that owns a smartphone, then you’ve probably downloaded a few apps onto your device. Maybe you’ve accessed The Weather Channel to check the local forecast, or played one of your customized music stations on Pandora. What about a little Angry Birds action? It sounds like you’ve been enjoying yourself! However, if you own an iPhone, Blackberry, or Android device—you may be unwittingly supplying third-parties with your personal information and since mobile games currently rule the app market, the unauthorized transmission of personal data spells major privacy issues for children who may be accessing those apps.
Smartphones have the ability to store plenty of personal information like your name, phone number, current location, and the unique identification number associated with your device. This number (referred to as UDIDs on iPhones) cannot be blocked by the user and is the number one piece of data shared, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. In fact, the Journal’s investigation found that 56 out of 101 apps actually sent unique device IDs to other companies without the users’ knowledge or permission. Naturally, Apple and Android developer Google both say that they obtain permission from users before disclosing personal information, but the Journal found several violations.
So, which apps are guilty of information sharing? Below are just a few of the Wall Street Journal’s findings:
- Pandora (popular music app)- sent age, gender, location and phone IDs to various ad companies.
- TextPlus 4 (text messaging app)- sent phone IDs and zip codes to 8 ad companies, plus users’ ages and genders to 2 of them.
- Paper Toss (game)- sent phone IDs to at least 5 ad companies.
- Pumpkin Maker (game)- sent location data to an ad network.
People are starting to notice. Apple was actually sued late last year for allowing its mobile apps on iPhones and iPads to send users’ personal information to third-parties without their permission. Other defendants in that lawsuit include developers of Pandora, Paper Toss, The Weather Channel and Dictionary.com.
One of the biggest problems from a user perspective is the fact that most apps do not offer privacy policies in writing and since users are unable to block or delete “cookies” that store this type of private information, they literally have no way of opting out.
All of this privacy confusion translates into big money for advertisers who collect cell phone users’ personal information to create specific user profiles based on their geographic location, what apps they’ve downloaded, how much time they spend using each app, and more. With detailed profiles of users, advertisers can target and personalize the ads they deliver.
So, how can users protect themselves? First, make sure you know what you’re agreeing to when downloading an app. Keep in mind that if you don’t agree to their terms, you may not be able to install the app. Users may also visit the app’s website to read privacy policies (if available), and for iPhone apps-- visit its App Store page for more information.
If you're a parent of a child with a cell phone, your best bet is to physically take your child's phone every so often to see what apps they've recently downloaded and make sure they're safe and appropriate. Remember, a little mobile monitoring goes a long way.
Photo provided by: William Hook from Stafford, United Kingdom (Nokia N97 and iPhone 3GS Uploaded by Partyzan_XXI) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Tagged as: cell phones, information sharing, Mobile, parental control, parenting, Privacy Online, text messages, video games