Monday morning, the New York Times has published a gruesome investigation in which the publication analyzed a huge "anonymised" data set of smartphone location data from a third party vendor, discouraged it and tracked down ordinary people in their daily lives – including sensitive stops at places like Planned Parenthood, their homes and their offices.
The article shows what privacy consumers have suspected for years: apps on your smartphone are tracking you, and throughout the conversation about "anonymizing" and claiming that data is collected only in aggregate, our habits are so specific. and often exclusive – so that anonymous identifiers can often be reverse-engineered and used to track individual people.
Together with the investigation, the New York Times has published a guide for managing and restricting location data in specific applications. This is easier on iOS than on Android and is something that everyone should do periodically. But the main argument, I think, is not just that we need to be more scrupulous about location data settings. We need to be much more restrictive about the applications we install on our phones.
Everywhere we go, we have a device that not only has a GPS chip designed to track our location, but an Internet or LTE connection designed to convey this information to third parties, many of whom monetized that data. Approximate location data can be obtained by tracking the towers of the cell phones to which the phone connects, and the best way to ensure privacy would be to have a mute phone, an iPod Touch, or no phone. But for most people, that's not very practical, and so I think it's worth taking a look at the types of apps we've installed on our phone and their value propositions, both to us and to their developers.
A good question to ask yourself when evaluating your applications is "Why does this application exist?"
Early design decisions from Apple, Google, and application developers continue to haunt us more than a decade later. In general and historically, we are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a smartphone, but we refuse to spend $ 0.99 on an app. Our reluctance to pay for apps in advance came at an incalculable but huge cost to our privacy. Even a flashlight or fart noise application is not free do, and the overwhelming majority of "free" apps are not altruistic – they're designed to make money, which usually means collecting and reselling your data.
A good question to ask yourself when evaluating your apps is "Why does this app exist?" If it exists because it costs money to buy, or because it is the free extension of a service that costs money, then it is more likely to be able to sustain itself without harvesting and selling your data. If it's a free app that exists for the sole purpose of accumulating a large amount of users, it's likely that it was monetized by selling data to advertisers.
O New York Times observed that many of the data used in their research came from free weather and sports applications that changed and sold their users' data; Hundreds of free games, flashlight applications and podcast applications ask for permissions they really do not need for the express purpose of monetizing their data.
Even apps that are not scribbled data usually work this way: Facebook and your suite of applications (Instagram, Messenger, etc.) collect various data about you both from your behavior in the application itself and directly from your phone We did great efforts to hide the fact that your Android application was collecting call log data.) And Android itself is a smartphone ecosystem that also serves as another data collection device for Google. Unless you feel particularly inclined to read privacy policies with dozens of pages for each downloaded application, who knows what information is used for news, podcasts, airlines, ticketing, travel and social media are collecting and selling.
This problem is getting worse, not better: Facebook made WhatsApp, an application that managed to be profitable with a subscription fee of $ 1 a year, on a "free" service because it believed it could make more money with a business model based advertising.
What this means is that the dominant business model in our smartphones is that based on monetization you, and just paying obsessive attention to your application's permissions and seeking paid alternatives, you can minimize those impacts on yourself. If this bothers you, your only options are to completely get rid of your smartphone or rethink which apps you want to install on your phone and act accordingly.
Maybe it's time to get rid of all the free single-use applications that are essentially resized websites. In general, it is safer, with privacy, to access your data in a browser, even if it is more inconvenient. Come to think of it, maybe it's time to delete all your apps and start over using only apps that respect your privacy and have sustainable business models that do not depend on monetizing your data. On iOS, this may mean using more first-party apps from Apple, even if they do not work as well as free third-party versions.