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Security & privacy

Smartphone privacy: 3 types of apps collecting more data than you realize

Once iPhone’s iOS 14.5 update hit the scene, millions of users started to see how many apps track your data for advertising purposes. Thanks to the newest system update, you’ll start to see a pop-up asking to track your activity. That means each app needs your explicit permission before it can share your private information and track your usage across apps and the rest of the internet.

Apple’s been concerned about privacy for a while now, which is why its last big update introduced the “privacy nutrition label.” That gave users like you a better understanding of the personal data each app collects on you. For example, tap or click here to see the shocking amount of data Google collects from your phone.

But just because Apple uses a pop-up system to inform users doesn’t mean apps are changing their ways. In fact, some of the most data-hungry apps are still starving for your sweet, profitable secrets. That’s why we’re shining a spotlight on the worst offenders you’ve got to watch out for.

Keep an eye out for some lesser-known data-collecting apps

Sure, you probably know about Facebook and Instagram’s love for collecting user information. It’s the main way Mark Zuckerberg makes money, after all. And you’re probably aware of some of the other big names we’ve covered, including:

  • Tinder
  • Grindr
  • Uber
  • Strava
  • Tesco
  • Spotify
  • MyFitnessPal
  • Jet2

Tap or click here to find out why these particular apps are bad for your privacy. But a recent report from the New York Times sheds light on some lesser-known info-gobbling apps.

We found some of these apps so surprising, we had to share them. (You might find out something as innocuous as your weather app was actually shooting lightning bolts at your cybersecurity system!)

Here are a few types of apps you might not have known were collecting your data:

1. First off, watch out for weather apps

You might not expect it, but weather apps track a ton of data. Of course, they need to know your location to give you accurate weather predictions — but do they really need all that extra stuff? For instance, The Weather Channel app on iOS or Android tracks your search history, usage data, diagnostics and identifiers … along with your location.

Photo from the App Store.

WANT TO LEARN MORE? Here’s the full story — plus some good alternatives

But it’s not like The Weather Channel is one-of-a-kind in this regard. Let’s take a look at AccuWeather on iOS and Android. In 2017, ZDNet caught it selling user location data to third parties … including users who deliberately chose not to share their location.

Also, in 2019, tech and security firm Upstream Systems caught the Android-only Weather Forecast — World Weather Accurate Radar with its hands in the proverbial cookie jar.

Photo from the Google Play store.

The Wall Street Journal picked up the story and told readers this app collects your email address, location data and your phone’s unique IMEI identification numbers. (If that weren’t enough, reporters also busted it for trying to subscribe users to paid VR platforms — without consent.)

Overall, you should be careful when downloading third-party weather apps. For apps that are so focused on sunshine, they can be awfully shady.

2. Secondly, some news apps have a secret story: sharing your data

Usually, we go onto news apps to learn more about the world around us. We see our favorite news app as a sharer of other people’s stories. In reality, it may be sharing your stories, too — or, rather, your browsing history.

For example, the CBS News app on iOS and Android collects all this info:

What if you’re on the other side of the pond and you favor BBC News on iOS or Android? Well, that app also collects browsing history. You’ll also surrender your location, browsing history, usage data and identifiers.

Sure, news apps have ads, so it’s not surprising that they share your location. But don’t forget that many of these apps charge subscription fees. This might make you wonder why they need to also make money by selling your private data.

Ironically, the New York Times called itself out in the report. “In our tests, we found that these 13 apps, including the New York Times app, sent data to an average of five trackers each,” journalist Thorin Klosowski said.

FUN BUT FRIGHTENING: Bet you won’t beat this privacy quiz

3. Lastly, be careful when you game on your phone

By now, you know the app store isn’t just fun and games. Even the games themselves aren’t 100% safe! Some of them are loaded with malware that flies under the radar.

Here’s a safety tip: Before downloading a game to your phone, look it up on the internet. Maybe look it up with a keyword like “security” or “privacy.” A quick Google search could unveil some unsavory security flaws.

For example, last year, researchers exposed 21 popular game and puzzle apps that could infect your phone with malware. If that weren’t creepy enough, get this. Many were advertised on YouTube — right where kids could find them.

If you’ve downloaded any of these programs, you could soon be drowning in popups and ads. Tap or click here to see the full list of dangerous gaming apps you should delete ASAP.

Malware aside, a lot of games make good money by tracking you. That’s especially true for free games, which come with embedded ads and multiplayer games. Take a look at Words with Friends on iOS and Android.

Image from the App Store.

Initially, it may look fun, colorful and charming. You might be interested in having fun with friends, so you don’t think to scroll down and see what it plans to take from you. As it turns out, Words with Friends collects a ton of personal data, including:

  • Purchases
  • Contact Info
  • Browsing History
  • Identifiers
  • Usage Data
  • Diagnostics
  • Other Data

It’s not unique in this regard. Far from it! Lots of developers track your data while you’re busy playing.

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