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Security & privacy

These robocall apps are harvesting your data

Oh the irony! Just when you thought you had obtained relief from the robocalls that invade your privacy, security researchers have found that a number of call-blocking applications may not be as privacy friendly as you might have assumed.

As it turns out, several of the most popular apps you can download to block robocalls are actually harvesting personal data and sharing them with analytics companies. These companies then sell your data to marketers and advertisers — some of whom may even be robocallers as well. It’s like a never-ending circle of spam!

If you’re looking to truly free yourself from robocalls, your solutions may be limited for the time being. But at the very least, here’s what you need to know about blocker apps that harvest your data — and which ones might be worth deleting from your device altogether.

Not-so-private callers

According to recent reports from CNet, security analysts at the NCC Group found that a number of the iOS App Store’s most popular robocalling apps are harvesting user data and selling them to analytics companies. This knowledge was obtained after thoroughly reading the privacy policies of these applications, and noticing their wording granted consent to user data in exchange for the services provided.

One app in particular, TrapCall, was found to be sharing users’ phone numbers in particular with third party analytic companies. Worse still, the privacy policy didn’t even state this was occurring, as the app uploaded the data in the background.

TrapCall’s privacy policy has since been updated to reflect that it shares data with third parties. This app is currently the top robocall blocker on the iOS App Store.

Nothing in life is free

Data harvesting in free apps seems to be a recurring theme this decade — but it’s not without precedent or reason. If an application is free, developers still need to generate revenue in order to support their projects and livelihoods. This has lead to an idea among industry insiders and analysts alike that if a program is free — it means the users themselves are the product being sold.

As for who the buyers are, it’s typically third parties that have a vested interest in collecting demographic data. This data is then sold to other interested parties — like robocallers, for example — who would be interested in purchasing massive lists of aggregated phone numbers.

So for now, it’s safe to say that there isn’t much that can be done about data harvesting in free robocall blockers. Even still, just because your data is being harvested doesn’t mean it’s inherently a bad thing. Sure, one could interpret it as a violation of privacy (especially when the harvesting isn’t disclosed), but it’s ultimately the choice of the user whether or not they decide if a service is worth using.

So ask yourself this: Is it worth blocking robocalls if you know your data is being harvested? If you answered “yes,” there shouldn’t be too much harm to continue using the apps. If robocalls annoy you that much, more power to you. Otherwise, deleting apps like TrapCall, Hiya and Truecaller might be in your best interest.

If you’re considering switching to a paid app, that may be a sensible move — as the user fees provide a revenue flow for developers. This may lead them to avoid depending on third parties to generate their bottom line. However, make sure to read the privacy policy before you hit that download button. Otherwise, you might end up back where you started privacy-wise.

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