Report says popular apps violate privacy

Created date

March 2nd, 2020

Some applications may continue to track your activity and information, even after you've left the app.

Smartphones and apps have impacted almost every aspect of our lives. From tracking personal health data to ordering takeout food to finding romance—everything, it seems, can be done with an app.

However, once you open an app on your phone, it can track your location and even record the content of your messages or social media posts. 

A recent report published by the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) alleges that certain apps are systematically violating users’ privacy.

The report names ten popular apps, including dating apps like OKCupid and Tinder; health apps like MyDaysX and Clue; and even child-friendly game apps like My Talking Tom 2, an interactive virtual pet game. 

The report found that the apps tracked users and shared data with third parties. For example, it says OkCupid shared highly personal data about users’ sexuality, drug use, political views, and more with the analytics company Braze. 

While you can limit tracking preferences on desktop computers, you can’t always limit tracking on smartphones and tablets. In cases when you can opt out of tracking, it’s often written in confusing language, prompting most consumers to simply hit “accept.”

“The illuminating report by our EU ally, the NCC, highlights just how impossible it is for consumers to have any meaningful control over how apps and advertising technology players track and profile them,” says Linda Sherry, director of national priorities at Consumer Action. “That’s why Consumer Action is pressing for comprehensive U.S. federal privacy legislation and subsequent strong enforcement efforts. Congress must protect us from ever-encroaching privacy intrusions.”

Responding to the Norwegian report, nine U.S. consumer groups sent letters to the Federal Trade Commission, congressional lawmakers, and the state attorneys general of California, Texas, and Oregon asking for an investigation of several popular apps.

‘Hidden and incomprehensible’ 

“Consumers cannot avoid being tracked by these apps and their advertising partners because they are not provided with the necessary information to make informed choices when launching the apps for the first time. In addition, consumers are unable to make an informed choice because the extent of tracking, data sharing, and the overall complexity of the AdTech ecosystem is hidden and incomprehensible to average consumers,” the letters sent to lawmakers and regulators warn.

The groups include the Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, and Public Citizen. In addition to an investigation, the groups are calling for a strong federal digital privacy law that includes a new data protection agency, a private right of action, and strong enforcement mechanisms.

“Every day, millions of Americans share their most intimate personal details on these apps, upload personal photos, track their periods, and reveal their sexual and religious identities,” says Burcu Kilic, digital rights program director for Public Citizen. “But these apps and online services spy on people, collect vast amounts of personal data, and share it with third parties without people’s knowledge. Industry calls it AdTech. We call it surveillance. We need to regulate it now, before it’s too late.”