Home Did you know ? Concerned About Your Online Privacy in 2024? You Are Not the Only One.

Concerned About Your Online Privacy in 2024? You Are Not the Only One.

by Mic Johnson

Today, using mobile apps is inevitable. It’s no longer a matter of professional or business use. You use an application for your personal matters too, like buying groceries, booking events, searching for information, or staying connected with your friends and family.

Using so many apps today may look harmless, but did you know it comes with a cost? And that to, your own data? That’s what a recent study highlighted after analyzing a hundred apps, many of which are invading your online privacy by extracting and tracking your data.

First Things First, Why Do Apps Collect Data?

Apps need different data points from users depending on their service. At times, such information is vital for the app’s sole functionality.

For example, Google Maps must know your exact location to guide you on a route. Similarly, online delivery apps need your location, messaging and calling apps require access to your contacts, and antimalware apps require access to your phone’s core files to scan for malicious files.

So, data collection isn’t a problem as far as it satisfies the app’s purpose and respects user privacy. However, it is a problem when the apps access and collect unnecessary/unrelated data points and track users. For example, if a food delivery app starts accessing the camera and microphone, it looks suspicious because the app shouldn’t require these to function. Similarly, a flashlight or wallpaper app shouldn’t access your device’s contacts list, location, and other identifiers – if it does, it’s a red flag!

Most Mobile Apps on Your Phone Track Data – Surfshark Reveals

Researchers from Surfshark have shared insights about apps’ data tracking in their recent report. As explained, they analyzed 100 different apps to determine the data points they collect and how they use them. For this, they gathered information about the data collected, linked to users, and the data used for tracking from the respective apps’ App Store pages. The results, while not unexpected, were (at least) disappointing for users’ privacy.

Food Delivery and Shopping Apps Track Users the Most

Surfshark observed that the apps in the shopping and food delivery categories aggressively collected and tracked users’ data. Specifically, on average, these apps collected 21 out of the 32 data points. The apps then linked 95% of these data points to the users’ identity and used a third of this data for user tracking.

Wish appeared to be the most data-hungry app in this category, collecting 24/32 data points for user identity and tracking purposes. Likewise, Amazon collects 25/32 data points and links them to user identity; however, it doesn’t track users.


Facebook and Instagram Love to Collect Data

The researchers also found Facebook and Instagram to be the two most privacy-invasive apps given the extent of data they collect and track. Specifically, both apps collected all 32 data points, linking the data to users’ identities. Next, 7 of the 32 data points even facilitate the apps’ tracking of users. These include users’ email addresses, physical addresses, and phone numbers.

Following the two come Wish, DoorDash, and TikTok, which collect 24/32 data points each and link them all for user tracking.

Education and Work Apps Aren’t Data Hungry

From the bunch of data-hungry applications, Surfshark also identified some privacy-sensitive apps that are least interested in user tracking. Interestingly, most of these apps belong to the education, entertainment, and AI niches.

Topping this category is the AI-Generated Art app, which collects no data, followed by the messaging app Signal, which collects only one data point – users’ phone number – which is not used for identity linking and tracking. Compared to Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram lag behind as they collect 15 and 11 data points, respectively. But fortunately, none of these apps, despite linking the data to the users, use the data points for user tracking.

Khan Academy, an app popular among students globally, collects only one data point that it links to user data but doesn’t track users.

How Can You Reduce/Avoid Data Tracking?

As an avid mobile phone user, you can certainly take control of your privacy to a greater extent. While you can’t restrict the apps from collecting your data, you can adopt ways that spoof or change your data points instead.

1. Use A VPN

It’s a no-brainer that a VPN is one of the top tools to mask your digital identity. This singular software spoofs some of the prime identifiers of your online identity, such as your device’s IP address, geolocation, and your browsing activity (thanks to the underlying encryption). These functionalities significantly reduce the authenticity of data points that apps like Facebook collect.

2. Subscribe to Breach Alert Tools

Various breach alert services exist today that quickly alert you as soon as they detect a breach involving your email address. But, while such tools also exist in browsers like Google Chrome, they aren’t as inclusive as a dedicated service. So, choose the one that covers most of your data for breach monitoring.

For instance, Surfshark Alert offers a bunch of tools to help you protect your identity following a breach. Alongside the expected function of alerting users in case of an email address breach, it also prompts users upon detecting a breach involving users’ credit card information and personal details. It also generates real-time alerts, offers family accounts protection, and sends regular data security checkup reports.

Surfshark’s Security Suite also offers the Alternative ID feature for the users to secure their digital identity. This includes a new name, email address, and physical address, which you can use on non-sensitive websites (such as social media platforms), that don’t require identity verification. In this way, you can not only prevent unwarranted collection of your genuine personal details via various apps but can also save yourself from potential breaches.

3. Install A Robust Antivirus

A trusted antivirus is another obvious security tool for your device to prevent malware intrusion. Again, be cautious when downloading an antivirus from a random source since you will trust the app forcore files. So, choose an app from a credible developer that offers real-time threat protection, removes malicious files from the device with deep scans, and blocks cookies and data trackers.

Wrapping Up

Mobile applications offer tremendous convenience for users; however, they also intrude on their privacy with aggressive data collection and tracking practices. Unfortunately, not many mobile apps miss the chance to profile users as accurately as possible, leveraging the data for various analytical and financial purposes.

Thankfully, security providers like Surfshark offer numerous tools to prevent such intrusions. Surfshark’s Security Suite, which offers impressive data masking features such as Alternative ID, is an apt choice for everyone looking to protect their digital identity without spending a fortune.

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