Apple is one of the few companies that take into account the privacy and autonomy of its customer’s data. The cost of such high levels of user privacy is the tighter regulations by Apple on its own economy (especially in regards to maintenance and repairs). A report, however, has pointed towards various application in iOS sending a huge sum of data to tracking companies.
The Washington Post conducted research over a myriad of applications on iOS that yielded data that caught apps sending personal information of the user data to tracking companies. The research was conducted over a period of one month in conjunction with Disconnect, a privacy-related firm. The results had shown apps sending 1.5GB worth of user information.
The data was apparently sent during late hours when the user was generally asleep. Charging the phone overnight had seemed to activate the service. The trackers showed activity when the interactions with the device’s functions were to be really low. This process only occurs if the user has the “background app refresh” function enabled in the settings. Although this function is enabled by default on any Apple handset.
The apps from Apple store used in the research were from some of the top companies such as Nike, Yelp, Spotify, Microsoft OneDrive, Mint, IBM’s The Weather Channel, DoorDash, Citizen and surprisingly even the Washington Post’s very own application. Data had uncovered over 5,400 trackers in apps within a mere week into the research. Most trackers are said to work seamlessly without the user ever finding out that they were present in the background processes.
For those unaware, data that is acquired can be used to send ads tailored according to the user’s activities. In other words, after the personal information is received by such companies, users would then start receiving ads for something they looked up or searched for online. Ever since the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal in 2018 was uncovered, the public has been far more concerned and aware of their private information being traded without their knowledge. The aftermath of the fiasco had tech giants and social media companies have stricter regulations placed around them.
DoorDash the food delivery service from California was discovered to have sent data to nine 3rd party trackers, while Citizen the app that sends crime-reports for incidents near the user’s location was found sending phone numbers, email addresses and the actual GPS location of the iPhone owners to a tracker called Amplitude. The developers of Citizen had been contacted and an update has since gone online removing the tracker.
Apple in an official statement had addressed applications that do not adhere to the App Stores rules and regulations, that require developers to clearly post privacy policies and ask for user’s permission to collect data, to either abide by the rules or be taken down from the App Store. The report had shown not all data collected was harmful or bad to the user as some data was anonymised and stored. However, some trackers have not made clear what kind of data was collected, for what amount of time, and whom it is sent to there on.