Dozens of popular iPhone apps provide location data about tens of millions of mobile devices to third-party data firms while providing “little or no mention” of the data sharing, per a study by security researchers at developer GuardianApp. Almost all of the apps generate revenue by providing data than can help to deliver targeted ads, per TechCrunch.
ASKfm, CouponSherpa, GasBuddy, NOAA Weather Radar and Perfect365 are among the 24 apps that send data to companies that profit from the location data they collect. Those data monetization firms include AreaMetrics, Cuebiq, Factual, Fysical, Huq, InMarket, Mobiquity Networks, RevealMobile, SafeGraph, Sense 360, Teemo and Wireless Registry, per GuardianApp.
Many of the apps contain prepackaged code from the data monetization firms that sends GPS coordinates along with information from a mobile device’s accelerometer, battery charge status and cellular network name. While many firms say they don’t gather personally identifiable information, mapping data can be used to determine where a mobile user lives or works, per GuardianApp.
It’s too early to tell whether GuardianApp’s report about the data-sharing practices of dozens of mobile apps will lead to widespread outrage among consumers or a crackdown by Apple. Many app developers depend on ad sales and data monetization to provide their apps to mobile users for free, but consumers are seeking more transparency about how their personal data are being collected. That’s especially true after the Cambridge Analytica scandal at Facebook resulted in bad publicity, lawsuits, investigations and the possibility of regulatory fines. Apple has banned apps for controversial content or data sharing, and has added a Limit Ad Tracking feature to its mobile operating system to allay privacy concerns.
It’s important for apps to disclose what kinds of data they collect in order to maintain trust among their users and avoid the possibility of losing their user base or getting banned from Apple’s App Store. Consumers may not be comfortable with the data sharing that reveals where they live, and then can be matched with places where they shop. It’s easy to imagine that employers may want to keep tabs on their employees using location data, or that insurance companies may want to monitor the driving history of their customers or how frequently they visit places like liquor stores or gyms to get an idea about their personal habits.
Mobile marketers need to respect the privacy of their customers to avoid damaging their brands, as Facebook has done. A recent survey by Pew Research found that 42% of U.S. adult users of Facebook took a break of several weeks or more from checking the social network during the year, 26% deleted the app from their phones and 54% adjusted their privacy settings. Facebook’s data don’t appear to support those findings, though, with daily active users in North America remaining stable from June 2017 to June 2018 at between 183 million and 185 million. Monthly active users rose to 241 million in Q2 2018 from 236 million a year earlier, per Bloomberg.