The topic of apps tracking and collecting user data is not new but rather has been a majorly debated issue since the technology developed and started reaching the hands of millions around the globe. While using an application on your mobile device, its system is programmed to track every move you make and collect valuable information about you and your behavior to then use for different purposes.

Yes, this might sound a bit creepy or even scary, but most apps that collect data do not use it against you or intend to harm you. Oftentimes, the data collected by apps is mostly sold to third parties, a means by which apps generate income. The third parties might be advertising agencies, who will then offer you goods and services that you are more likely to purchase. However, the data is also believed to be sold to the government. Now let’s see how apps collect data, why they do so, and how you can prevent this.

How Do Apps Collect Data?

Any apps that you install and use on your mobile devices collect some sort of data about you. This is done when you use their apps and interact with what the app has to offer, be it games, educational materials, fitness apps, social media, etc.

The most common way that you are tracked is for example when you see a popup message regarding ‘cookies’ on a website. When you agree to accept them, companies put special files and algorithms in these apps that are doing most of the job for them.

Companies that sell goods, for example, may track every item you’ve selected, put in your cart, bought/didn’t buy, what goods you searched for, etc. They will track your purchasing patterns and use the data to then offer you a more customized user experience that will probably result in more purchases and more profit to the brand. Every time you connect to the company and their app you should be aware that all your moves are being gathered. This is very important to companies, and is considered to be working exceptionally well.

It is crucial for companies to track the data of their consumers and offer them relevant goods/services. They also track your location through your mobile device, which then allows them to recommend stores near you and offer products/services available in your region, for example. Companies are spending a fortune on advertising even though they might be targeting the wrong groups of people. When particular algorithms track and collect user data, it lets companies save a huge amount on advertising and offer their consumers exactly what it is they are more likely to purchase.

Why Do Apps Need My Data?

As I see it, there are two major reasons why apps are collecting user data:

  1.     To offer a better experience and, in some cases, increase sales
  2.     To sell to third parties.

So, in the first case, apps are gathering your data, behavior, location, information to offer you a better experience while using the app. In a way, this ‘forces’ you to buy or spend more whilst they offer you a customized experience. This means that after your data is tracked, algorithms can understand your behavior and make conclusions and predictions about what you are more likely to spend your money on. Consequently, apps will only show you the products/services that are most suitable for you (as the algorithms predicted), which results in a bigger chance that you will give the company more money!

In the second case, apps are tracking and collecting your information in order to sell it to third parties, such as advertisers, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, etc. As most of the apps in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store are free, they have to find a way to generate profit. Tracking and selling user data is one of the most common ways to do so. Apps will track your purchase history, your interests, preferences, usage durations, location, usage times, and many more bits of information. All of this data is collected by many apps and sold to giant companies.

When the bigger companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, and/or Apple get their hands on the data of millions of users around the globe, they use it to offer targeted ads, friend suggestions, pages, websites, blogs, etc. from which they also make money. While they have access to your location, they will present you with ads regarding services available near you that will also increase the chances of you spending money!

Ptolemay Limits Data Collection

Ptolemay takes this issue very seriously. We take the following actions to prevent third parties from tracking user info, hacking into the app, or even gathering user data:

o   Ptolemay keeps all data on the servers that were custom built.

o   Ptolemay builds servers only on reliable and trusted cloud infrastructure providers (Digital Ocean, AWS).

o   Safe Code. Ptolemay does not store critically important data in code that allows the application to be hacked via decompiling.

o   Ptolemay uses reliable encryption algorithms.

o    Ptolemay uses refresh tokens. We update the keys to reduce the likelihood of hacking.

Securing user data is Ptolemay’s priority. Our developers are professionals and experienced in ensuring safe storage of valuable data.

Which Apps Collect the Most Data (Stat)

According to some statistics, the top three apps that know the most about their users include Facebook, Instagram, and Tinder. The data they collect can be anything like your location, personal data, phone numbers, financial info, biometrics, browsing history, education info, photos, recorded payments, transactions, etc.

These apps collect most of your data, and here are the % of user personal data they possess: Facebook (70%), Instagram (58.82%), Tinder (55.88%), Grindr (52.94%), Uber (52.94%), Strava (41.18%), Tesco (38.24%), Spotify (35.29%), MyFitnessPal (35.29%), Jet2 (35.29%)

Ways to Prevent Data Tracking

There are many apps that have been tracking user data for a long time, but it doesn’t seem that many people care about this. I see two groups of people: those who do not care if apps track data and those who do not want valuable data to be collected by apps and sold to third parties. I believe many people do not show much concern for this as it doesn’t harm them in any way and sometimes even improves user experience. I also believe that as long as apps do not track really valuable data or personal information that may result in legal trouble, I think this will continue not to bother many users.

However, many want to take action to prevent apps from collecting information about them. Here’s how to prevent apps from tracking your data on iPhone and Android:

iPhone: When iOS 14.5 came out, the biggest hit was the new “App Tracking Transparency” feature that was introduced. This feature allows you to decide if you want apps to track your data or not. This eventually means that if you choose to not allow apps to track data, you will not be shown targeted ads based on collected information, your location, e-mail address, and phone number. Also, other data will not be shared with third parties or data brokers.

In order to activate this feature, you can go to Settings > Privacy > Tracking and enable the feature. With this, apps will ask you to allow or not allow tracking, and by clicking ‘don’t allow,’ your data will not be shared!

Android: Android doesn’t yet have such an easy-to-use feature for not allowing apps to track data as the new iOS 14.5 does, but there is still a lot you can do. When you first download an app or open one for the first time, it might ask you permission to allow access to different things on your phone, be it your contacts, camera, microphone, phone, etc. You can easily tap ‘do not allow’ and your data will be safe. If you want to check if other apps have permission to some data, you can follow these steps (might vary by phone): Settings > Apps (Application Manager) > Choose an app > Permission > Turn off the points you do not want the app to access. Or users can head to Security Settings > App Permissions to see what apps access which data and adjust accordingly.

So, What’s Going on?

So, looking at the world of today, I can tell you for sure that there are tons of apps that gather information about you and use it for different purposes. You might not care about this if it doesn’t actually harm you (which it mostly doesn’t), but you might be worried or skeptical and you can in some ways control your data privacy. Overall, you might want to look over the permissions that you give to apps you’ve installed so that they do not track some personal data of yours. If you are using apps that Ptolemay has developed, you do not have to worry about this at all.

 

Written by Luka Botchorishvili

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