Apps are everywhere nowadays. We use them for everything, and they’re a constant in almost everyone’s life. According to Anushka Bandara, co founder and CEO of Elegant Media, Australia’s leading App developer, lots of companies use smartphone location information through Apps to provide to advertisers and affiliate businesses.
“People need to understand that while technology brings convenience and access to services, it also comes at a risk to personal privacy,” Anushka said today.
“Apps on your phone gather information about your movements and location and this information is then shared and sold to others.
“Given the fast evolving nature of technology, Apps can now tell if you have gone to Woolworths, walked your dog, driven to work or even gone out to dinner and they can identify which restaurant you have visited. If you’ve been to see your doctor or a psychiatrist, this will be captured as well.”
The New York Times has reported that many companies receive anonymous precise location data from Apps whose users enable location services to get local news and weather or other information. The Times found several of these businesses claim to track up to 200 million mobile devices in the US.
“Location data is big business for a lot of companies that want to use the data to better understand consumer behaviour, better target advertising or sell the data to others,” Anushka added.
“Location data is a hot market with sales of location targeted advertising set to reach $30 billion by 2020. As a result a lot of businesses are getting involved in the location data sector. IBM has entered the industry with the purchase of the Weather Channel’s Apps.
“While businesses tell you that they are only interested in consumer patterns and can’t identify people, the reality is that if you are able to draw together the raw data, you can identify the people you are tracking.
“The truth is that App users can be identified and this information can be accessed by anyone who is able to enquire the data. This includes your identity, where you live and your contact details. This is concerning and raises questions about the security of the data.
“We all experience weird happenings like advertisements for businesses or products that start popping up on our devices not long after we’ve visited a physical location. We didn’t give anyone our details while were were there, so how did they even know we were there? The answer is, your location, movements and actions are known to more businesses and people than you think, all thanks to your Apps.
“If you enable location services on a App, then you are fair game. Not only will your movements be tracked, your identification may become known and your personal information most probably shared and sold.
“Apps usually include lengthy permissions and the detail is buried deep in the content. Most people do not read them.
“The mobile location industry started out as a way for Apps to customise their offerings and businesses to better target their ads to nearby consumers. Unfortunately it has evolved into a much bigger industry – a data collection and analysis machine that is now operating more like big brother.
“If you are comfortable with the possibility of potential employers or health insurance funds knowing your inner most secrets, then no need to worry. However, if you don’t want your personal information being shared without your awareness or consent, then there are things you can do.
Be aware of the real cost of free online services. There is always a cost and thanks to your Apps, the cost is the capture and dissemination of your personal information
Be selective about what Apps you download and use
Take the time to adjust App settings to minimise their ability to access your phone and location information. Where setting adjustment is not possible, think about whether you really need the App on your phone
Remove old Apps that you don’t use
“Apple and Google make a lot of money from Apps but also have an obligation to protect the interests of users. The most recent version of Android only allows Apps that are not in use to collect information a few times an hour, rather than continuously, which is what most Apps do. Apple has gone one step further and requires Apps to inform the user of the intended data collection.
“Apple at one point was even looking at showing a blue bar onscreen whenever an App not in use was gaining access to location data. I think key players across the industry probably pushed pretty hard to have this initiative binned.
“Our role as App developers is to work with businesses to help them to design and build an effective App that adds value or solves a genuine market issue. While we also assist in the monetisation strategy we also ensure businesses understand their obligations around privacy and data security.
“My concern is that, like with every industry, there is always the opportunity for sinister behaviour to creep in. We have high standards in Australia for App development, but it is also important for App users to be vigilant as well, particularly given that many Apps are developed overseas.”