December 12, 2018 at
For a long time now, smartphone users have been aware of the fact that the apps they download are tracking their movement. It is also nothing new that this information is being transferred to third parties, even without users’ approval. Google itself was caught doing it a year ago when it was uncovered that Android users are having their data collected and sold, even when they turned off navigation tracking.
Other apps such as Facebook, a dating app Grindr, and even fitness apps were also caught doing the same. These data exposures were heavily criticized, but it appears that the incidents failed to cause any change. In fact, a recent report from The New York Times has stated that these apps are now even more sophisticated when it comes to technology. They can now be used as perfect instruments for tracking individuals.
The report has accused numerous iOS and Android apps of tracking their users’ location at all times, even if they may seem completely harmless at first. In other words, even the weather apps or those that provide news updates are tracking devices’ location and selling it to third parties.
According to The New York Times, this report is a result of a long-term review of the user database, spanning over four months. During that time, it was noted that the location of one of the New York’s residents was recorded more than 8,600 times. According to calculations, the location of this individual was noted once every 21 minutes.
All of their movements were tracked at all times, including their daily routine, such as traveling to work, visiting the gym and other locations, and alike. It was estimated that around 75 companies are constantly receiving data regarding the location of 200 million US-based individuals. This data is later used for things such as location-targeted advertising.
Using location data for creating a user profile, manipulating masses, and more
The report also points out an interesting detail, which is the lack of interest in the actual identities of tracked consumers. Instead, companies would rather know what patterns can be deduced out of smartphone users’ movements. In fact, the report claims that companies do not receive phone numbers of individuals, but rather a unique ID. This doesn’t mean that the person cannot be identified and/or followed by someone with access to this data. However, companies seem to be sticking to what their call “a fair game”.
The report also concludes that the aspect of asking for permission by downloaded apps is a misinforming move. For example, the app may say that it requires access to user location data in order to help them avoid heavy traffic, but there is no mention of the data being collected, sent to the app’s creators, and then sold to advertisers. Even if this is mentioned in the apps’ privacy policies, it is usually quite vague and can be interpreted in different ways.
Some extreme cases of tracking users were even found to do almost constant updates, where the app has recorded users’ location for more than 14,000 times per day. This data is very valuable to companies as they can predict customers’ behavior and obtain insight into their needs and wants, and even intimate details, such as visits to psychiatrists, AA meetings, dating habits, and more.
The data is also used for getting an insight into what people think and desire, which can be used for influencing the opinion of the general public and even manipulate entire masses, according to critics. The report ends with a conclusion that there is no such thing as a free app, meaning that app users are still paying for them, only not with their money.