So much for that “what happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone” advertising campaign from Apple. I cannot help but note the irony that, in reality, apps are monitoring your every move and grabbing data to help with advertising campaigns. Not that this should come as any great surprise; if you aren’t paying for an app then you are the product. However, the sheer number of apps involved, the number of trackers used per app and both the volume and frequency of the data collection is cause for concern.
What is going on?
When the Wall Street Journal investigated the world of iPhone privacy controls it discovered that, frankly, those controls are about as much use as a chocolate teapot. The WSJ reporters looked at some 80 iOS apps, all recommended in the App Store as being “Apps We Love.” What they found was all bar one were using third-party trackers to collect data about the user. Most were using more than one tracker, the average being four per app.
What data is being collected?
What data is being collected by iOS apps? Would it surprise you to discover that as well as details of your device such as the model, name and phone number these trackers can grab your email address, the IP address that is allocated to your internet connection and even your precise location at any given time? Everything from music streaming and weather apps, through to news and storage apps are doing it. Maybe Apple should change the advertising slogan to “invading your privacy – there’s an app for that.”
Of course, it isn’t just iOS apps that do this. Android apps are just as bad. However, that doesn’t mean that Apple gets a free ride. Especially in light of that “what happens on your iPhone…” campaign. Rumors are rife that Apple CEO, Tim Cook, will try and dampen the flames with an announcement tomorrow regarding limiting these trackers when it comes to apps in the App Store “Kids” section. More than one information security and privacy expert have already told me, in off the record conversations, that they think this is unlikely to be workable.
What can you do to stop the spying?
So what can you do to stop the tracking yourself? Good question, to which the answer is nothing. If the question had been what you can do to limit the tracking problem, then things are somewhat more positive. Just don’t expect to be able to stop all the spying because that isn’t going to be doable I’m afraid. You can start by heading to the Settings|Privacy|Advertising section on your iPhone and enabling the Limit Ad Tracking function. This will prevent advertisers from getting usage statistics including search history data. It will also mean you’ll see random adverts rather than targeted ones, but to be honest most of the “targeted” ads I see on any platform are pretty random anyway. While you are in the privacy settings, you may as well turn off location services for apps that you don’t want to be tracking your location.
I would also suggest disabling the Background App Refresh function which can be found in Settings|General for those apps that really don’t need it. This is meant to enable those apps that do need to perform update and content checks to do so while you are not actively using them and so provide you with notifications and the like. I’d recommend not taking the nuclear option with this one and take some care as to which apps you disable it for. There’s always going to be a balance required between usability and privacy at the end of the day. And during the night, for that matter, as the function is used by some apps to spy on you while you sleep.
The nuclear option
If you want to frustrate the collectors of this data as much as possible, there are other more drastic measures you can take. The obvious one is to uninstall all the apps that are not 100% essential to you. Such a cull, on a regular basis, is no bad thing anyway if only on memory and storage usage grounds. You can switch such things as Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth off when you don’t need them. Although “no such thing as a free lunch” applies as much to apps as it does anything, the truth is that even expensive app dining won’t guarantee you a tracking-free experience. Most paid-for versions of apps also collect this data, even if they are not actively serving you with advertising.
courtesy : forbes