We use apps every day – there’s not much we can do online without them, from banking transactions and tracking our physical fitness to chatting with friends and playing games. If you’re wondering how sensitive the data you share with these apps is, and which ones reveal this information the most, read on. A recent study by pCloud used Apple‘s new App Store privacy labeling feature to find out which apps collect the most sensitive data for their own use, which ones share the most data with third parties and which ones are the most invasive overall. The results may surprise you.
What data do apps share?
Knowing what data your apps share can help you decide whether you want to continue using them or switch to less intrusive alternatives. Any information you enter when you sign up for an app can be analyzed for the company’s benefit and shared either with third parties associated with the company or with those who pay to access your data. All of this is completely free; when you accept the terms of the app, you agree to this.
It may surprise you to learn that 52% of apps share your data with third parties. This data can include things like your location, browsing history, contact information, fitness level, bank details, and so on. While some of the reasons apps collect your data are legitimate-such as tracking how you interact with them to make your experience better and correct mistakes-the company that created the app may also sell or share this information with third parties, who then target you for advertising on their platforms. What’s more, your data often ends up in social listening companies like Hootsuite or BuzzSumo, which collect your data so companies can analyze you and ultimately sell you products.
How much of your data do the most popular apps share?
The apps that many of us use daily – Instagram, Facebook, eBay, LinkedIn and YouTube – are actually some of the worst offenders when it comes to sharing your data with third parties. According to a study by pCloud, Instagram is the worst offender of all, sharing 79% of your data – including personal information, shopping information and browsing history – with others.
Facebook is next with 57% of your data, and LinkedIn, YouTube and TikTok are not far behind with 50%, 42% and 36%, respectively. YouTube shares your data, selling it to brands that target you on other platforms, and uses it to choose the ads you see before and during videos. Among the most amazing apps that share your data are Duolingo, a popular language-learning app, and eBay. Both of them share 36% of your data with third parties.
Apps that collect data for their own use
Even if apps don’t share your data, they tend to collect it for their own (not always nefarious) purposes. Social media platforms are the worst offenders here: about 80% of these apps use your data to promote their own products both within the app and on other platforms. Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram collect 86% of your data, which is then used to sell you more of their own products and show relevant ads. Twitter, LinkedIn and eBay are not as bad, but they collect about 50% of your data for these purposes. It may surprise you that Amazon ranks relatively low on the list of offenders, collecting only 14% of your user data, and the online retailer does not share it with third parties.
How to protect your personal data
It’s good to know what apps are collecting and transmitting your personal data, but what can you do about it?
Good news for iPhone and iPad owners: The latest update to iOS 14.5 introduces App Tracking Transparency, which allows you to opt out of tracking apps that collect your data and share it with third parties. After installing the latest update, every time you open an app that tracks you, a pop-up will appear asking if the app has permission to do so. Click “Ask the app not to track” to keep your data private.
If you don’t have an iPhone or iPad, there are apps that collect less, if any, data about you, so it makes sense to switch to one of them if concerns about online privacy keep you up at night. Skype, Microsoft Teams and Google Classrooms are just some of the apps that collect little or no data about their users, and Netflix and Signal are also safe to use if you’re worried about privacy. In general, Facebook and Instagram collect and share the most data about their users, which may explain why many people switch to apps like Signal and Telegram.