‘Big App’ is watching you, with iPhone worse offender than Android

Dec 19, 2010
Tech

Your smartphone may be secretly transmitting to “outsiders,” such as ad networks, your name, your location, your age, your gender, your phone number, your unique device number and other personal data without your knowledge or consent. As part of a series of articles on privacy, Scott Thurm and Yukari Iwatani Kane reported in the Wall […]

Your smartphone may be secretly transmitting to “outsiders,” such as ad networks, your name, your location, your age, your gender, your phone number, your unique device number and other personal data without your knowledge or consent.

As part of a series of articles on privacy, Scott Thurm and Yukari Iwatani Kane reported in the Wall Street Journal that smartphones “don’t keep secrets. They are sharing this personal data widely and regularly.”

The reporters, reviving the spyware controversy in the new era of apps, examined 101 apps and found that 56 of them transmitted the smartphone’s unique device ID and 47 apps transmitted the phone’s location.

Daniel Eran Dilger said in Apple Insider: “The findings might be news to some smartphone users, who are rarely presented with simple, straightforward information about individual apps’ privacy policy.”

The limited survey—where Apple (AAPL) offers hundreds of thousands of apps for the iPhone—found: “iPhone apps transmitted more data than the apps on phones using Google (GOOG) Inc.’s Android operating system.”

For example, the reporters said the worst offender in the survey was textPlus 4 for texting on iPhone, which sent unique ID numbers to eight ad companies, along with age and gender to two. The popular music app Pandora transmitted age, gender, location and phone ID to ad networks.

Ad companies and app makers maintain they obtain the data to make more relevant advertising and also that they protect privacy.

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Apple said it created privacy protection, including requiring app makers to obtain consent before sharing. But The Journal found apps apparently skirting the rules.

Google said app makers “bear the responsibility for how they handle user information.”

The Journal noted that unlike computer users, smartphone users can’t block cookies. For now, if you like your apps, you may have to put up with the spyware.

Michael Becker of the Mobile Marketing Association told The Journal: “In the world of mobile, there is no anonymity.”

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Howard Wolinsky

Howard Wolinsky is a Chicago freelance writer specializing in health and tech topics. He covered those beats for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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