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Security & privacy

Check your phone for these privacy-stealing Big Tech data apps

Data harvesting is everywhere these days. Platforms ranging from Facebook to Twitter are in an arms race with one another to find the best ways to collect, analyze and sell your information to affiliates. It may seem creepy, but it’s a major reason these websites are free to use.

It’s as the saying goes, “If something is free to use, then it means you’re the product.” And sure enough, these platforms certainly act like it. Tap or click here to learn how Facebook continues to sell user data.

But many consumers generally consider the sharing of certain information to be taboo. Data like gender, religious beliefs and sexual orientation are usually kept private, but several high-profile apps have been caught collecting this data and sharing it with ad affiliates.

If you use these apps on your phone, you might want to think twice about what you share.

Several dating and period-tracking apps collect and sell private user data

A new study performed by privacy advocates at the Norwegian Consumer Council found several mainstream apps collect and sell sensitive user data to affiliates in the targeted advertising industry.

These apps range in functionality, but most can be categorized as dating apps. Some of them were even female health tracking apps for menstrual cycles. The most well known names among them include OKCupid, Tinder, Grindr, Happn, Clue and MyDays.

According to the study, these apps collect data that could point to user’s dating preferences, sexual orientation, gender and religious beliefs. Combined with other harvested data like birthdays, GPS coordinates and device ID numbers, a determined hacker could connect the dots and point the information back to a single person.

Although there haven’t been any incidents of hacking or compromise occurring with these apps in the wild, they were determined to be selling the highly personal data to affiliate groups. Big names like Amazon, Facebook and Google are on the list, as well as known ad affiliates like AppsFlyer and Receptiv.

In total, the 10 apps that were studied shared data with 135 different companies. That’s an incredible amount of sharing for this highly personal information.

Why do they want this information?

It’s easy to say this data is simply sold to advertisers with the spoils going to the highest bidder, but the truth is far more complicated.

The NCC determined several of these apps are in violation of EU privacy laws, and are sharing data with entities that may use the information for purposes beyond creating sales. Unfortunately, much of the practices are still perfectly legal under U.S. laws.

NCC advocates fear the personal nature of this data could be used to build databases that can be used by large companies and groups to enforce discrimination. Other fears include the use of this data for political microtargeting, much like what happened with Cambridge Analytica. Tap or click here to learn more about the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

For the time being, it’s safe to assume the data is being used for marketing or demographic research purposes — these are things we know for sure some of the affiliates participate in. But the shadowy nature of the Big Data industry makes the entire picture murky.

How can I keep my information private?

As we’ve mentioned above, data harvesting is very much the tradeoff for access to free social internet services. The question users should ask themselves is whether or not they want to share their information with these platforms in the first place.

Some users who date online only provide the bare minimum these platforms ask for, which can make it difficult for agencies to get a clear picture of them. This is good practice for any sort of online platform. Remember, the less information you provide, the safer your data is.

It might make it a little harder to find the perfect match, but you can get to know your potential partner better through conversation, anyway. For even more tips and tricks on mastering the world of online dating, tap or click here to read our guide on Komando.com.

It’s high time to accept Big Data as the new norm of the social internet. If it’s any small comfort, at least we can choose whether or not to participate. If it means losing access to friends to chat with online, maybe you can direct them towards a more private, old fashioned method of contact: a phone call.

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