Your Apps Are Watching You

Statistics say 1 in 2 Americans will have a smart-phone by December 2011. Many people keep their address, bank account numbers, passwords, PIN numbers and more stored in their phone. The mounds of information kept in smart-phones is more than enough to steal one’s identity with ease.

What most people don’t consider are the applications that they are using on a daily basis. What information is stored there? According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, more than you think.

After examining over 100 popular apps, they found that 56 transmit the phone’s unique device ID to companies without the user’s knowledge. Forty-seven of the applications transmitted the phone’s actual location, while five sent other personal information such as age and gender.  This shows how many times your privacy is potentially compromised without your knowledge, just by playing music on Pandora.

Here are a few of the culprits:

  • Textplus 4 is a popular text messaging app. It sent the unique phone ID to over 7 different ad companies.
  • Pandora, a popular music application for both smart-phones and computers sends age, gender, location and phone ID to many advertisers.
  • Paper Toss sends your phone ID to 5 different advertisers.
Smartphone providers such as Apple and Google state that they make sure applications get approval from users in order to transmit this type of information. Apple declined to comment after it was found that a popular pumpkin carving app was sending location information without gaining permission first.  Although it is written in Apple’s privacy policy that apps must obtain permission, this clearly is not happening. On the other hand, Google, creator of the Android, does not monitor their apps and what they are transmitting at all. Neither company requires their apps to have privacy policies and 45 of the 100 apps examined didn’t have one.
Here’s what you need to know in a nutshell:
  • Apps are capturing and transmitting a variety of your personal information. If you are using smart-phone apps, your information is being transmitted.
  • Paid apps tend to transmit less personal data than free apps. After all, the free apps have to make money somehow!
  • Get rid of any applications you don’t use.
  • If an app gives you the option to opt out of information sharing, take it.
Even if the application you are downloading and accessing does ask for your permission to gather location information, they don’t disclose who they are sending it to or how they are using it. With so many loop-holes, inconsistencies, and a lack of policing applications, it is clear your information will continue to be transmitted without your knowledge or permission.