How Protected is Your Data if You Use Apps?

by Nate Ryan

How Protected is Your Data if You Use Apps?

Apps have revolutionized how we interact with the world by allowing people to make purchases, take payments, analyze their health, navigate with GPS, and more. Despite their numerous benefits, apps are notorious data collectors that often share or sell your personal information for profit.They are also often vague on how protected your data is while using the product.

However, Apps can collect, sell, and share your data due to the permissions enabled through installation and launch. As of today, there are currently very few things you can do to limit app tracking without hindering its performance. App permissions, terms, and agreements are intended to be vague and difficult to understand. As concern over data handling continues to grow in the United States, many people are wondering what they can do to lessen the commodification of their personal information through app tracking. We’ll simplify what these mean and how you can take easy steps to be more private below.

Unfortunately, most apps have some degree of data tracking built in. When you download an app, you agree to the terms and conditions regarding your information collection and are shoehorned into giving the app permissions to your location, contacts list, health and fitness, voice/recording, and more. Terms of Service are binding, and often people don’t read the fine print, meaning they are not fully aware of how much information they are allowed access to. And while you can disable some of the permissions of existing apps, this often either hinders its performance or prevents the app from operating entirely. What you gain in convenience, you lose in privacy.

How Can We Protect Ourselves?

Ultimately solutions to app tracking are limited because disabling permissions can reduce app functionality. However, you can take a few easy steps to control app tracking permissions on both existing and new apps you download. 

Also:

  • Don’t download unnecessary apps or ones you will use only once or twice.  
  • Use spoof Apple ID/Google logins. 

You can also try using the website version of some apps since the data collection is less aggressive. Little habits like this can add up to a security strategy that protects your personal information. Mindfulness becomes a habit. Services like Deleteme also can be used to control information that ends up on the internet. 

Here’s how you can try to limit data skimming with existing apps:

  1. Delete apps you’re no longer using, and make sure to disable their access to information through your app settings, and 
  2. Disable location tracking in your smartphone. (The downside to this, though, is that disabling your phone’s location tracking can increase your privacy but can limit convenient features finding restaurants near your location and all the bells and whistles that people enjoy using their smartphone for.)

At this point in time, though, there are actually not many protections legally in place for the consumer in the United States. Apps are built for convenience, and, frankly, to collect data on users. The saying “data is king” is not a myth. And other than using an old flip phone, there really isn’t much you can do, except be mindful of settings.

The FTC takes consumer privacy seriously, and has suggestions on apps, and data privacy regarding apps. A lot is actually common sense- for example, only buy from the Apple app store or Google play, review privacy settings, delete old apps, and keep all software updated to prevent hacking. Good security hygiene goes a long way to protecting you from bad actors. All new apps should request to track your activity, and consumers should review all privacy settings regularly. Another option to consider is using the “only track when using” setting in an app.

So, while there may not be many practical solutions for app tracking, being more aware and cautious about what permissions you’re willing to give an app is a good start. We are also seeing awareness of pressure from consumers in the data privacy arena recently with both Apple and Google. Apple has recently implemented App Tracking Transparency policies within its latest iOS update to inform its users which apps are seeking permission to access other information sources. Android is rolling out its Privacy Sandbox over the next few years to limit the sharing of user data, remove advertising IDs, and give users more privacy. 

So, according to the FTC, here is what you should do:

  • Review the app’s permissions. Go to your settings to review the permissions-in general, if you notice an app needs a large number of unnecessary permissions of location, camera, address, personal information…that’s a red flag. 
  • Turn off or limit location settings. 
  • Don’t use social media to sign into apps-it will use all the data collected to sign in. If you do, change the password.
  • Update apps software as needed, and protect your phone from malware. 
  • Delete unused apps. If you aren’t using them, why let them collect data? 

Other safety tips to protect your phone according to the US CERT Privacy and Mobile Device Apps guidelines include watching over your phone while charging publicly, and protecting your phone from theft, both of which leave your device vulnerable to information theft. 

Hopefully, as time passes, we will have come to terms with data privacy, and people’s right to privacy, which is a constant battle when dealing with cybersecurity. Most people live their lives never needing high levels of digital security, and laws may catch up. Identity theft is always an issue, and over time, solutions to that particular issue may become easier to deal with, as well. As always, early vigilance can stop problems before they begin.

Does the Hogo App Sell my Data?

The short answer to this is no Hogo does not sell your personal information. Hogo collects your information to help improve the performance of our product as we go out and scan the internet for all your private information that is being sold by data brokers. Then we allow you to delete your personal information from data broker websites that will sell your information to anyone who is willing to pay.

by Nate Ryan Nov 09, 2022