Apps form a part of our everyday life. From catching up with our friends to playing games, watching films, investing in stocks, making payments and banking, there’s not much we do without them. But what price do we pay for the ease they offer?
A new study by pCloud looked at the concerns surrounding mobile apps, working out which ones require the most information in exchange for using them. By using the new Apple privacy labels featured in the App Store, it identified which apps share the most of your private data with third parties and which gather the most for their own benefits, to find the most invasive overall.
What kind of data do apps collect?
Any information you agree to be gathered by an app when signing up can be analysed for their benefit and even shared. You agree to this by accepting the app’s terms and conditions. While this data is willingly passed on, you might be interested to know exactly what it is apps are after.
Everything from your browsing history, to your location, your banking details, your contact details, and your fitness levels can be valuable for apps to store, use, or sell on. While they all have a responsibility to keep this data safe, that doesn’t always mean it stays in their hands.
52% of apps share your data with third parties
Apps collect your data for a lot of reasons. One of the initial reasons for this is to make your experience better, tracking how you interact with them to fix bugs and improve how they work. However, they also use your information to target you with ads across any platform. We’ve all seen it – we finish browsing on one app, then an advert selling us something we’ve just looked at appears somewhere else.
This is done by passing on your data to third parties, something the study revealed that over half of all apps do. Third parties might be associated with the company that runs the app, or they might just pay a fee to access their users’ data.
Social listening companies are often where your data ends up. Companies like BuzzSumo and Hootsuite collect your data to allow people to analyse, understand and, ultimately, sell to you.
Apps can collect and share anything from your personal information and user content, to search and browsing history, to analyse you as a ‘profile’ for themselves and other apps.
YouTube shares 42% of your information – Insta the worst offender
Every time you search for a video on YouTube, 42% of your personal data is sent elsewhere. This data goes on to inform the types of adverts you’ll see before and during videos, as well as being sold to brands who’ll target you on other social media platforms.
YouTube isn’t the worst when it comes to selling your information on. That award goes to Instagram, which shares a staggering 79% of your data with other companies. Including everything from purchasing information, personal data, and browsing history. No wonder there’s so much promoted content on your feed. With over 1 billion monthly active users it’s worrying that Instagram is a hub for sharing such a high amount of its unknowing users’ data.
In second place is Facebook, which gives 57% of your data away, while LinkedIn and Uber Eats both sell off 50%. In fact, when it comes to food apps, Just Eat, Grubhub and My McDonald’s are the only three in the study that give nothing away at all, instead using your data for location tracking and their own marketing needs.
The study conducted by pCloud revealed that 80% of apps use your data to market their own products in the app and beyond. This includes things like apps serving you their own ads on other platforms, as well as in-app promotions for their own benefit, or for third parties who pay for the service. The study revealed which apps collect the most data for this by analysing how many of the possible 14 data categories each collects under Apple’s ‘Developer’s Advertising or Marketing’ section.
The top two here are the same offenders – Instagram and Facebook. Both are owned by Facebook and use 86% of your data to sell you more of their own products and serve you relevant ads on behalf of others. In joint second are Klarna and Grubhub, who use 64%, while Uber and its food app, Uber Eats, both use 57%.
The data these apps use can range from your date of birth to offer you exclusive discounts, through to the times you usually use the app. If Uber Eats, for example, knows you’re often browsing at 6pm on a Friday, they’ll know when to hit you with the ads.
Which apps are the safest to use?
Worried about your information being shared? Based on how much data apps collect overall, for selling on, selling to you, and tracking your actions, we can reveal which apps are the safest to use, to keep your data safe and private.
Lockdown favourites such as Skype, Microsoft Teams, and Google Classroom collect no data at all and top the list alongside Clubhouse, Netflix, and Signal.
At the other end of the scale to Facebook and Instagram, upcoming social media stars BIGO LIVE and Likke are amongst the top 20 safest apps to use, collecting just 2% of users’ personal data.
How invasive are your favourite apps?
Based on how much data apps collect overall, for selling on, selling to you, and tracking your actions, we ranked over 100 of the most popular apps around the world, in order of how invasive they are.
The popular auction app Ebay came in at 5th place, by tracking and selling 40% of the personal data possible. Shopping giant Amazon came surprisingly low in the list, with minimal tracking for their own advertising, and no data passed on to third parties.
Reddit, a platform celebrated for giving users a safe place for freedom of speech, came in 19th place, though sharing users location and usage data with third parties, as well as tracking user content and purchases for its own marketing purposes.
While these apps can be trusted not to do anything malicious with your information, there are lots of people out there who can’t. That’s why it’s important to have a secure place to store your data, preventing anyone from accessing it without your permission.
The study used the new Apple privacy labels featured in the App Store, which categorises all the information that can be collected on users by apps into 14 categories, and how they are used. The sections we analysed are ‘Third Party Advertising’, and ‘Developer’s Advertising or Marketing’.
To identify the worst apps for sharing your data with third parties, we used the ‘Third Party Advertising’ section, marking each app out of 14 for how many of the 14 categories they track. The same was done to see which apps collect the most data for their own marketing, using the ‘Developer’s Advertising or Marketing’.
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