Ooo… That’s click bait, you’re thinking.
iPhone apps sending information to third parties, and a man who likes privacy is unhappy.
Basically, he is afraid of spies.
Of course, that’s really oversimplifying things, so let’s take a closer look at the points he raised.
5,400 trackers and 1.5 GB of data sent
From his writing:
On a recent Monday night, a dozen marketing companies, research firms and other personal data guzzlers got reports from my iPhone. At 11:43 p.m., a company called Amplitude learned my phone number, email and exact location. At 3:58 a.m., another called Appboy got a digital fingerprint of my phone. At 6:25 a.m., a tracker called Demdex received a way to identify my phone and sent back a list of other trackers to pair up with.
In a single week, I encountered over 5,400 trackers, mostly in apps, not including the incessant Yelp traffic. According to privacy firm Disconnect, which helped test my iPhone, those unwanted trackers would have spewed out 1.5 gigabytes of data over the span of a month. That’s half of an entire basic wireless service plan from AT&T.
But in the first place, what is 1.5 GB of data? Are these trackers randomly sending his private videos to companies, his teenage novel wrote in secret, or is it something harmless?
His post seems sponsored
In a world of data brokers, Mr Jackson is the data breaker. He developed an app called Privacy Pro that identifies and blocks many trackers. If you’re a little bit techie, I recommend trying the free iOS version to glimpse the secret life of your iPhone.
I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing since working with a privacy firm does reinforce his arguments. I’m just saying there might be a reason why the man wants to exaggerate things a little.
The rest of the article involves him going to various apps going “This has a tracker! That has a tracker! Everything has a tracker!”.
Why smartphones need trackers and information
A: “Hi. Grab delivery here. We received your order but where you?”
B: “I’m here.”
A: “Where is here? We need your exact location to give you the food.”
B: “Eh, my privacy matters and I don’t want you snooping my private information around. Just pass me the food.”
The more tech-savvy among you guys probably know that some of the data aren’t that special. Some apps need to track data in order to even function.
You can’t really expect your Grab or GoJek driver to fetch you if they don’t know where you are right? E-commerce and credit card apps, like Visa, also uses location tracking to prevent credit card fraud by confirming location data.
Plus you know that time you reinstalled an app you didn’t use for a long time, to find it smoother, more user-friendly, and free of junk features? Guess how they gathered data to improve the app?
Though, he’s not entirely wrong
Sometimes, companies take a little more information than required for apps to function. It’s why iPhone’s recent marketing campaign involves selling the idea of “Privacy“. And this was really the whole point of his essay.
One example would be Ads. I’m sure reading Goody Feed you will notice a lot, but they’re not here to annoy you. They’re actually here so I can buy Cai Png, with the alternative being eating grass.
That’s the same for apps. But instead of showing me random Prada handbags that I have no money or desire to buy, might as well show me a Burger King ad that I already sometimes buy and have the money for right? Enter location tracking and relevant ads, which requires your info to actually function.
The problem is when they do that without your permission.
Need for clearer consumer protection
Privacy policies don’t necessarily provide protection. Citizen, the app for location-based crime reports, published that it wouldn’t share “your name or other personally identifying information”. Yet when I ran my test, I found it repeatedly sent my phone number, e-mail and exact GPS coordinates to the tracker Amplitude.
After I contacted Citizen, it updated its app and removed the Amplitude tracker. (Amplitude, for its part, says data it collects for clients is kept private and not sold.)
It’s pretty fishy when a tracker is removed like that and really doesn’t help that most privacy policies aren’t very clear in what they actually do with our data. So it’s not like the dude is throwing accusations without reason.
From our standpoint, it’s also almost impossible to tell what each tracker do. We’re basically leaving it up to the companies to whisper gently into our ears, “it’s magic”, or if they choose to, tell us what those actually do.
But really, what can we do?
Not much. Using apps like his sponsor is and changing native privacy controls on your phone is one.
On Android phones, if you know how to, you can even change the OS to a more bare-bones version like LineageOS that has no Google spying feature. There are also app stores like F-Droid that has a list of apps that respect privacy and freedom.
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