They Want Your Data
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that mobile apps regularly access our location data. For a lot of them it’s perfectly acceptable. We want our weather app to give us the right weather, our maps app to show us where to go, and our shopping deals app to give us the best deals near our current location. While most of us understand the privacy trade-off we succumb to for accurate results, it may be a shock to realize just how often apps are pinging your location.
Recent studies have been conducted using App Ops, an Android app that monitors your mobile device and alerts you when your apps or games ping for your location. The results are staggering and quite disturbing when you take into consideration your privacy and safety concerns. Some apps were found to have pinged for a users location over 5,000 times in a 2-week period. Companies such as Groupon and LivingSocial will argue that the volume of location-harvesting is justified in order to provide their users with an optimal experience. While that may be true, there are literally thousands of random games, flashlight apps, virtual lighters and tons of others that want to know your location also. Not to provide you with a better mobile experience, they want to track your every move and sell the information to third-party companies that will use it to their benefit.
Some of these seemingly innocent apps have nothing but devious intention behind them. Pinging your location so frequently, your movements can be tracked on a map throughout your entire day. Creepy right? So what do they want this information for anyway? The majority of the time it’s about money. Most of them are pushing this information to 3rd-party services that in return serve you ads based on your whereabouts. Popular free games like Words With Friends, Jetpack Joyride and Fruit Ninja have all received low privacy grades based on sketchy behavior with location-harvesting. Other lesser known games have even been caught seeking permission to write to your phone’s USB storage, send texts and even access your contacts list.
It’s All About The Benjamins
The app stores eco-system has played a large part in the growth of this privacy invasion. Because most apps and games are free, for wider audience adoption, developers are forced to monetize in other ways besides charging for their app. Advertising is the most popular alternative and it makes the most sense for developers to link up to an already existing ad-network. They may not even know that their app is committing these actions. For advertising revenue and other in-app features, often times a developer will plug into a 3rd-party code library with integration to these services.
The privacy threat doesn’t end with the ad networks though. Lots of harvested location data is sold to insurance and mortgage companies that may use it to set premiums and rates. The fact is, we really don’t know where our information could end up once it’s been aggregated and sold off. Companies resell data all of the time, once they’ve used it for their own purposes. The current situation doesn’t offer an easy remedy. It’s best to stay away from games and apps that are random and unfamiliar. Make sure you read every notification request from any apps you download to assure it stays within your privacy rights. Download a monitoring app to find out which games and apps you have that are abusing your privacy and make sure you uninstall them. With a little due diligence, you should be able to protect your privacy and secure your sensitive information.