Understanding what / how much data apps collect and how to stop (or at least limit / restrict) the apps from collecting data, are the first steps to protecting your privacy / personal information when using your smartphone. This also applies to social media networks and other types of sharing sites.
Quick question – How many apps do you have on your smartphone? Surveys have shown the typical Android or iPhone user accesses about 43 applications on their device each month, spending one to three hours a day with these apps. You may have closer to 91 apps, about half that were only opened / used just after installing.
Tip #1: Delete all the apps you don’t normally use. This will free up space on your device, possibly make it run faster and the battery last longer. This will definitely reduce the amount of data you are sharing without realizing it.
FYI – What do the app stores do to help protect our privacy?
- Google plans to remove apps that handle personal or sensitive data from the Google Play Store if they don’t have privacy policies.
For example, their summary says that Uber collects:
- Information that you provide to Uber, such as when you create your Uber account.
- Information created when you use our services, such as location, usage and device information.
- Information from other sources, such as Uber partners and third parties that use Uber’s API.
And then goes on to explain the details about:
- Location Information
- Transaction Information
- Usage and Preference Information
- Device Information
- Log Information
- Calls and text messages
- Address book and calendar information
The “Device Information” is the one that links you to everything. The Address / Calendar you can opt out of.
Tip #2: Turn off access to your location data in service, restaurant, ride-sharing, and map apps like Uber, Lyft, Waze, MoviePass, Subway, etc. when you’re not actively using them.
Okay, the Uber policy looks pretty good and I get good usage out the service, and I’m only sharing data when it’s open. We’ll keep that app!
Tip #3: Review the privacy page for each of your apps; Go to the settings either on the website or preferably in the app to uncheck / turn off all of the notifications / sharing that aren’t necessary. Here’s how to get started:
- For iOS devices, you can see which apps access which data by going to Settings > Privacy
- For Android (version 6.0 “Marshmallow”, and later) lets users control app permissions by going to Settings > App > Permissions
How do apps get personalized information in the first place? Every mobile device and smartphone has its own 40 character and numeric serial number called “UDID” (Unique Device ID).
One expert, Appthority, explains, “Access to UDIDs is a concern because with a unique device identifier, developers can correlate user behavior across multiple apps (even if they have different usernames and passwords for each of the apps) and then match them to a unique user. While Apple has prohibited iOS developers from using UDIDs as a means to track and identify users, Appthority discovered that the new rule is only enforced on devices which are running the latest version of iOS.”
If an app collects at least one unique identifier from your usage (e.g., an email address, last digits of credit card, etc.) along with the UDID from your devices, this can help advertisers track you across the different devices you use (say, from your smartphone to your tablet, to your laptop). Using this “cross-device” tracking, multiple services can build a much more complete profile of your online persona.
One last item to mention: It’s not just your smartphone, tablet and laptop that may be giving away your personal information. We also carry around a bunch of information in our passports, some identification cards and some credit cards. Someone needs to be close to you to activate and capture the electronic information stored in the chip, but it is possible.
There is a lot of discussion about whether a special wallet, purse or backpack to block RFID “skimming” is worth the investment. We feel that if you are looking to get a new one, you might as well as opt for the feature. There are many attractive ones out there, as can be seen from this link to Amazon: RFID Wallets for Men and Women
Here are two interesting books to read on the topic of personal data security, and methods to protect yourself.
What Stays in Vegas: The World of Personal Data: Lifeblood of Big Business and the End of Privacy as We Know It
The Art of Invisibility: The World’s Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data
As they used to say on Hill Street Blues … Let’s be careful out there.