Smart phones have pretty much become life support for millions of people. They’re as portable as your wallet, and their ever-increasing production means you can fulfill your every need and your every desire with the tap of your finger. They can organize your schedule, help you socialize with friends, manage your bank account, scan QR codes to receive voucher codes from retailers, find the closest froyo shop, and that’s the tip of the app iceberg.
But with all this frenzied app creation and consumption, there comes a dark side: the pervasive collection of users’ data, many times without their knowledge. We’ve compiled a list of the apps that may get your personal identity in the most trouble.
Latitude is one of those apps that doesn’t really hide the fact that it’s transmitting your personal information, but it definitely divulges an undeniably personal level of detail when you’re signed on: your exact physical location.
Granted the app handles profile viewers much the same as any other social media – you must confirm who your friends are and you can quit anytime – but considering the havoc social sites such as Facebook have reeked on people’s lives, it’s easy to see how things could go awry.
For example, if you decide, one day, to scan the world map to see where your “friends” are residing, you may be surprised to find two dots that happen to be right on top of each other. Two friendly phones set on a coffee table, or two of your friends doing the hanky-panky?
If it’s not speculation and gossip you’re worried about, then turn your attention to some of your less scrupulous “friends.” There have already been documented stories of vacationers’ away messages hinting burglars to empty houses ripe for the plucking. With Latitude, you don’t even need to leave town for the weekend to be had; one of your “friends” just has to see that you happen to be cruising the shopping mall on the opposite side of town.
Google Searches – Maps, Web, etc.
If you’re so sure you’d never be so stupid as to give away your location information, think about Google’s Maps or Web searches. While you may be under the impression that your location information is merely between you and Google to get you to the closest vegan, gluten-free café in town, think again. The truth is you agreed when you downloaded the app that Google could share your data with third parties.
While Google uses the defense of full disclosure (i.e. it mentions what data the app has access to in the fine print before the download occurs), it is believed that many independently created apps could be violating these rules.
Facebook is another giant that was found to be divulging information; in this case phone IDs that could potentially give third-party advertisers your name and friends list. The mere scale of this is what makes it most disturbing – tens of millions of people according to a Wall Street Journal investigation.
Despite the fact that many smartphone owners justify the device’s purchase based on its ability to offer a vast array of life management capabilities, games are believed to be the most downloaded type of app. Which brings us to Paper Toss; one review lauds the thrilling prospect that this game is “so realistic, you will think you are stuck in an office killing time”.
If the lure of workplace drudgery digitized at your fingerprints is too much to avoid, consider what kind of information Paper Toss collects and distributes about its users. Turns out, the app game has already given out users’ unique phone ID number to several different ad companies.
And, depending on what kind of phone you have, the ID number can give a range of information. Apple’s UDID is a 40-digit alphanumeric code that acts as a lifelong serial number for the phone. Android phones have an Android ID that is able to be reset. BOTH are transmitted unknowingly by several app providers. To make it more complicated is the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, an ID number that is used to lock phones when users report them stolen. Five Android apps were already found to be sending this number to one or more outside companies.
Pandora is one of the most downloaded apps for smartphones, and with good reason. Who doesn’t love streaming music digitally cooked to perfection?
The point is that Android and iPhone versions of this wildly popular app have been revealed to transmit information about users’ age, gender, and location. Age and gender data are usually fodder for marketing companies, nothing too wildly insidious. But why must location play a role in designing music tastes? Is Pandora embarking on a journey to change the world, one song at a time? “Oh, look, this user is walking along the bridge, skip Van Halen’s “Jump”” Or is it for control over the masses? “User has entered assimilation facility; cue up Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine.”
So, next time you’re zipping through your smart phone’s app store with reckless abandon, stop and ponder who might be watching and just how much they already know.
About the Author
Jon Lee is a freelance writer who’s interests are helping people with money saving ideas. His articles have been featured on large online savings sites such as Savoo.