iPhone Apps Sharing Users’ Personal Details – Is This A Worrying Trend?

App Store

Third party apps are without doubt one of the primary aspects driving the success of the iOS platform. One major area of concern with such applications is in the way they manage users’ personal details.

With over 200,000 applications on the App Store, it could be an administrative nightmare for Apple to ensure that the app developers do not breach the privacy of their users.

While there have not been too many applications that have used personal details of users like their phone numbers, location, name and UDID for malicious purposes, a recent study by the Wall Street Journal has shown that a number of applications do track and share these details with ad companies that are interested in studying these details for enhanced ad targeting.

Among the 101 popular smartphone apps (iOS and Android platform) that the WSJ investigated, it was found that over 56 of them shared the device’s unique ID (UDID) with third parties. In addition to this, the users’ location details was shared by 47 apps while 5 apps also shared their age, gender and other personal details. It is worth mentioning that these details have been shared with third parties without the consent of the user. WSJ has noted that the applications that have breached the users’ privacy include the massively popular Pandora, TextPlus 4 and Paper Toss.

An Apple spokesperson Tom Neumayr has defended the company’s platform noting strong privacy controls. He has said:

“We have created strong privacy protections for our customers, especially regarding location-based data. Privacy and trust are vitally important.”

However, what’s worrying is the absence of any privacy policy on the website of the app developers. In their defense though, it must be noted that all details gathered from users are shared with ad companies on a holistic level and not on an individual basis. Consequently, while ad companies shall be able to know the distribution of users across several target groups, they may not be able to track private details of any particular iPhone user.

The WSJ report implicitly points out that one reason why Apple or Google may not be requiring developers to incorporate more stringent privacy policies may be because these companies could themselves be walking on thin ice as far as gathering users’ personal details are concerned. AdMob, the mobile ad network owned by Google, along with other Google properties like Adsense, Analytics and DoubleClick was learned to be gathering personal details from as many as 38 of the 101 apps. On the other hand, Apple’s iAd network was found to be gathering information from 18 of the 51 iPhone apps used for the study.

WSJ’s Julia Augwin explains how smartphone apps collect and broadcast data in the video below:

What are your views on app privacy? Do you think these policies could affect the user’s trust on the App Store? Or do you believe that the loss of privacy is an inevitable by-product of the burgeoning app ecosystem? Tell us what you think in the comments.

[via WSJ]

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