Apps

Smartphone Apps can track you quite easily

Smartphone

The convenience of having all a person needs at his/her fingertips has made life a lot easier for the modern generation. Whatever one wants to do whether it is education, reading books, ordering grocery, or anything one can think of, there are apps that provide all the facilities. Little does anyone realize the danger that lurks behind the lure of the apps.  The saying that is popular among people who advocate privacy is relevant in this context. It is said that if a person is not paying then he is the product. This simply means that all those free apps are utilizing you to earn money. 

People doing betting in Smartphone must be more careful while revealing their personal information. Go to Malaysia gambling sites as they are quite reliable on this matter. A mobile app security company tested 250 of the most popular mobile apps and found that 70% of them had issues that could lead to sensitive user data exposure.

Although data leakage from apps is a widespread phenomenon, the retail apps are found to be most vulnerable. According to a study ninety-two percent of all online retail apps and eighty percent of store apps leak sensitive customer information. Research has revealed that apps transfer the data to the servers in plain text, which makes it easy for a hacker to identify and track a user and intercept their personal information.

Where are these data being consumed? 

There are tracking websites that utilize these data, which in turn send them to companies that track online users. Studies have revealed that at least fifteen percent of apps send data to five or more tracking websites. Now, these websites utilize one unique device identifier, like the phone number, which can associate different data collected from different apps related to that identifier.  Hence, the mapping of personal traits of a person is complete and can be used for commercial gains, if not for other harmful activities.

These apps are actually shadowing a person digitally to collect personal information such as, purchasing habits, visited locations, interests, health and many others, which can be packaged and sold to interested parties. The interested parties can analyze the data available from these apps along with offline information and make a digital profile of the person. 

Personal data is important to brands. Market projections, product design everything depend on consumer habits. As such, collecting personal data for target section or community is a key business goal. The case of Starbucks mobile app is an example of data leakage. It was found that the app was storing user credentials in plain text format. Media reported that the popular Smartphone apps like Angry Birds gather personal information for NSA including age, location, gender, and more.

There are healthcare apps, which track patient’s data such as, the frequency of the patient experiencing symptoms of a disease. With help of appropriate analytics these data can be used to determine the medical condition of a user.  It is not therefore, very difficult to envisage how useful these data will be to the pharmaceutical industry.

While installing an app it is found that many of them ask for information that is not particularly relevant to the functioning of the app.  For example a simple flashlight app is only required to turn on the LED flash of mobile phones.  However, many of these apps will require access to unnecessary data and phone functions. There are games, which may require access to gallery and camera or a weather app that will require access to microphone.

How to secure your Personal Data?

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An obvious question that crop up is whether there is a way by which the apps can be used without compromising personal information. Well, the answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. 

It is not correct to assume that if the app is turned off tracking will not work.  There are apps that keep tracking a person’s location as he/she moves from place to place. Even keying in sensitive information such as, passwords can be sensed by the apps.  Uber, for example, requires access to location even when the phone is not in use. 

Then what can be done?  It is good news that some reputed app stores have intentions to remove or have already removed apps that handle personal and sensitive data. However, as a consumer one needs to take charge of the situation. 

The first thing, which a Smartphone user should do, is to change the settings in the phone in order to make it more secure. Apple iOS gives a clear overview of the data accessibility of installed apps. This can be found by going to Settings>Privacy.  In Android version 6.0 and upwards users can control app permissions by going to Settings>App>Permissions. So, the best thing one can do to prevent data leakage is to turn off permissions to data access when the user does not require it. As an additional benefit this action will also save battery power.

Secondly, it is necessary to investigate whether the app in question has a privacy disclosure policy that is legally enforceable. Such a policy is supposed to inform the company’s commitment to using strong encryption for storing and transmitting data.  Although it is a pain to go through the fine print, it is worthwhile in order to protect sensitive data regarding finance, fitness, health and others.  The privacy policy is normally located at the bottom of the page in the app store. The apps that respect the user’s privacy clearly states in their privacy policy that they do not share the information with any third parties unless legally required to do so. 

Conclusion

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In conclusion it can be stated that not all apps intentionally steal data. In many cases it is found that the vulnerability is due to the fact that the developers often neglect to use proper security measures as their goal is to make the app attractive. In consequence, hackers can access personal data for commercial purposes. 

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