Google Play Store is full of apps that are sending your usage data to Google’s parent company Alphabet and Facebook. A study conducted by Oxford University analysed 959,000 apps on Play Store in the US and UK, most of which are bound to be found on the Indian Play Store as well. Of the analysed apps, nearly 88% send personal user data to Alphabet, while 40% send data back to Facebook. This data about you could include usage patterns, workflow etc, which could be used by the tech giants to create extremely personalised profiles of you and your behaviour.
Data from these apps is sent to Alphabet and Facebook through third-party trackers which identify user behaviour across multiple digital devices. The study finds that news apps and apps targeted at children are amongst the worst in terms of the number of third-party trackers associated with them.
“Firms with the ability to collect such data have become a significant part of the digital economy with the online advertising industry earning $59.6 billion per year in the U.S. alone,” notes the Oxford study. Developers embed third-party trackers right into the application source code and users aren’t even aware that they are freely giving away their data and allowing themselves to be tracked and hounded across devices and the internet.
“This enables construction of detailed profiles about individuals, which could include inferences about shopping habits, socio-economic class or likely political opinions. These profiles can then be used for a variety of purposes, from targeted advertising to credit scoring and targeted political campaign messages,” note researchers.
Although tracker blocking on the web is available on browsers, both desktop and mobile, there is no way of controlling third-party trackers on a mobile OS level or app level. The study notes that “privacy settings are primarily focused on app-by-app permissions, or permissions regarding certain data types (e.g. location, contacts, etc.)”.
“Just over 90% of all apps contained at least one tracker owned by a company based in the United States. China, Norway, Russia, Germany, Singapore, and the United Kingdom were the next most common destinations,” finds the study.
The study concludes - “These findings suggests that there are challenges ahead both for regulators aiming to enforce the law, and for companies who intend to comply with it. Full audits of mobile app stores such as this could help regulators identify areas to focus on.”
Image courtesy: Kaspersky