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Technology Popular Apps Share Intimate Details About You With Dozens of Companies

12:50  14 january  2020
12:50  14 january  2020 Source:   consumerreports.org

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Dozens of companies use smartphone locations to help advertisers and even hedge funds. “It’s the thought of people finding out those intimate details that you don’t want people to know,” said Ms More than 1,000 popular apps contain location- sharing code from such companies , according to

After spending months sifting through the data, tracking the movements of people across the country and speaking with dozens of data companies , technologists, lawyers and academics who study this field, we feel the same sense of alarm.

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  Popular Apps Share Intimate Details About You With Dozens of Companies © Provided by Consumer Reports

A new study shows how popular apps, including Grindr, OkCupid, Tinder, and the period-tracking apps Clue and MyDays, share intimate data about consumers with dozens of companies involved in the advertising business.

The details include data that could indicate users’ sexual preferences and religious beliefs, along with information such as birthdays, GPS data, and ID numbers associated with individual smartphones, which can help tie all the data back to a single person.

The study, conducted by an advocacy group called the Norwegian Consumer Council, examined 10 apps, and found that they were collectively feeding personal information to at least 135 different companies.

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Popular dating services like Grindr, OkCupid and Tinder are spreading user information like dating choices and precise location to advertising and marketing companies in ways that may violate privacy laws, according to a new report that examined some of the world’s most downloaded Android apps .

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The list of companies receiving the information includes household names such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google, but the majority are little-known outside of the tech industry, such as AppsFlyer, Fysical, and Receptiv.

The data-sharing isn’t limited to these apps, the researchers say.

“Because of the scope of tests, size of the third parties that were observed receiving data, and popularity of the apps, we regard the findings from these tests to be representative of widespread practices,” the report says.

Many of the companies involved make money compiling details about individual consumers to build comprehensive profiles in order to target personalized ads.

“However, there are increasingly other uses beyond targeted advertising,” says Serge Egelman, a digital security and privacy researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies how apps gather consumer data.

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These apps then shared user information with the company so it could keep track of how many of its employees were trying to get pregnant. And testing done by The Wall Street Journal in February found that Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker informed Facebook when a user was menstruating or intending to

A group of security researchers say dozens of popular iPhone apps are quietly sharing the location data of “tens of millions of mobile devices” with Almost all require access to a user’s location data to work properly, like weather and fitness apps , but share that data often as a way to generate revenue

Hedge funds and other businesses buy location data to analyze retail sales and plan investments, and political campaigns use reams of personal data from mobile devices to identify potential supporters for targeted outreach.

In the wrong hands, databases of information that include details like sexual orientation or religious affiliation could leave consumers vulnerable to discrimination and exploitation, the NCC says. It’s all but impossible to determine where all the data ends up.

The NCC says its study uncovered numerous violations of Europe's sweeping privacy law, the GDPR, and practices within LGBTQ+ dating app Grindr were particularly egregious. The organization is filing an official complaint against the company and a number of other businesses that received data from Grindr.

However, the same problems extend to American consumers.

“There’s no reason to think these apps and countless others like them behave any differently in the United States,” says Katie McInnis, a policy counsel at Consumer Reports, which is joining more than 20 other organizations to call for action from regulators. “American consumers are almost certainly subjected to the same invasions of privacy, especially considering there are hardly any data privacy laws in the US, particularly on the Federal level.”

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Only Android apps were tested, but there is no reason to assume iOS apps would be much different. Learn more about these tracking companies and the data they collect. Find out which apps use these trackers. The more informed you are, the better prepared you ’ll be to protect yourself.

The NCC analyzed Android apps—all available on iPhones as well—chosen because they were likely to have access to highly personal information.

They included the dating apps Grindr, Happn, OkCupid, and Tinder; the period-tracking and reproductive-health-tracking apps Clue and MyDays; a popular makeup app called Perfect365; the religious app Muslim - Qibla Finder, which shows Muslims what direction to face while praying; the children’s game My Talking Tom 2; and the keyboard app Wave Keyboard.

Every app in the study shared data with third parties, including personal attributes like gender and age, advertising IDs, IP address, GPS locations, and users’ behavior.

For instance, a company called Braze received intimate details about users from OKCupid and Grindr, including information users submitted for match making such as details about sexuality, political views, and drug use.

Perfect365, a makeup and photo editing app that counts Kim Kardashian West among its fans, sent user data, sometimes including GPS location, to more than 70 other companies.

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Apple also said that it requires apps to seek "prior user consent" for collecting data, noting that developers who flaunt the rules face harsh punishment. It is far from being the only privacy-related scandal that Facebook has been grappling with recently.

Facebook has admitted providing dozens of tech companies with special access to user data after publicly saying it restricted such access in 2015. Data shared without users' knowledge included friends' names, genders and birth dates. "We engaged companies to build integrations for a variety of

Consumer Reports reached out to Grindr and Match Group, which owns OkCupid and Tinder. The companies did not respond to CR’s questions prior to publication. A Perfect365 representative told Consumer Reports the company “is in compliance with the GDPR,” but did not respond to specific questions.

App privacy policies often make it clear that data is shared with third parties, but experts say it’s impossible for consumers to get enough information to give meaningful consent.

For example, Grindr’s privacy policy says its advertising partners “may also collect information directly from you.” Grindr's policy goes on to explain that the ways those third parties choose to use or share your data is governed by their own privacy policies, but it doesn’t name all those other companies, in case you wanted to investigate further.

At least some of those other businesses, including Braze, say they may pass your information onto additional companies, in what amounts to an invisible chain reaction of data-sharing. Even if you had time to read all the privacy policies you're subject to, you wouldn’t know which ones to look at.

“These practices are both highly problematic from an ethical perspective, and are rife with privacy violations and breaches of European law,” said Finn Myrstad, the director of digital policy at the Norwegian Consumer Council, in a press release.

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People who were willing to post their faces online, share intimate details about their lives, and answer hundreds of invasive questions were relatively few. We’ve also spoken to dozens of women about their experiences on OkCupid, and have heard the same sentiment over and over again: OkCupid can

WSJ noted how we share some of the most intimate details of our lives with apps . Millions of smartphone users confess their most intimate Previously unreported is how at least 11 popular apps , totaling tens of millions of downloads, have also been sharing sensitive data entered by users.

The United States doesn’t have a national privacy law equivalent to the GDPR, but California residents may have new rights that could be used prevent some of the practices outlined by the NCC thanks to the California Consumer Privacy Act, which went into effect on January 1.

But whether or not the CCPA will actually protect consumers all depends on how the California Attorney General interprets the law. The Attorney General’s office is set to release guidelines for CCPA in the next six months.

“The report makes it clear that even if you have laws on the books that protect consumer privacy rights and preferences, that doesn't really matter unless you have a strong cop in the beat,” McInnis says.

Consumer Reports is signing onto letters with nine other U.S.-based advocacy groups calling on Congress, the Federal Trade Commission, and the California, Oregon, and Texas Attorneys General to investigate, and asking that regulators take this new information into consideration as they work towards future privacy regulation.

There are lessons here for consumers as well.

“A big problem is that consumers generally worry about the wrong things,” Berkeley's Egelman says. “Most people really care about apps secretly recording audio or video, which doesn't really happen all that often, but then don't understand all the things that are being inferred about them just based on their location data and the persistent identifiers that uniquely identify their devices.”

Consumers can take a number of steps to protect their privacy. These include adjusting privacy settings for Facebook and Google, limiting which apps have permission to access things like location information, and deleting old accounts you’re no longer using. You may not be able to solve the problem entirely, but you don’t have to wait for federal regulators to make meaningful changes that will protect your privacy.

For more information, check out Consumer Reports' guide to privacy and security, or follow our steps for 30-second privacy fixes you can tackle right now.

Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2020, Consumer Reports, Inc.

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