Do your applications know you better than yourself?

Image source: cpomagazine

“If you are not paying for the product, you are the product” — this cannot be more true in the current context. Check this Quora answer to learn more on the origin of the aforementioned phrase. User data has always acted as a goldmine for companies to better understand user requirements, learn about their pain points, and improve product offerings. However, with the advent of online ad businesses, the value of data skyrocketed at a much faster pace than Tesla stocks. We can probably see personal data as an accepted payment method along with credit cards. Kidding, of course. Nevertheless, for a quite privacy-sensitive person, like me, it raises great concern. With WhatsApp changing its privacy policy, getting targeted ads even after using different tracker blockers, with apps asking for local network access permission, which shouldn’t even ask for Bluetooth permission, makes me worried. Out of curiosity, I tried to read through different applications’ privacy policies, which I should have read while creating accounts. And the data I found was quite unsettling. Technically, I have agreed upon the terms and policies, and I have allowed the same data to be collected. I am okay with the apps collecting data needed to make applications better, as long as it is anonymized. But some of the applications are using unique IDs, which can be used to track and distinctively identify the user. Let’s see some of the applications and their data requirements.

Facebook Application

Facebook is the king of online tracking. It is present everywhere, literally everywhere, in the form of sub-frames, sub-resources, comment boxes, SAML logins etc. In iOS, it collects device id, user id, name, phone number, email, physical address, device attributes, device signals, nearby access points, Bluetooth, everything. Facebook not only tracks what you are doing on Facebook or subsidiary applications, it also tracks user’s off-Facebook activity. You can check your off-Facebook activity here.

Major heads of data collected by Facebook app on iOS

Facebook Messenger

It is just another gateway for Facebook to collect data. It collects a similar kind of data as Facebook application does. Even after being a messaging application, it collects Health and Fitness data and Financial data, which is shocking. Find Facebook’s privacy policy here.

Major heads of data collected by Facebook Messenger app on iOS

Instagram

Here we go again. Along with the data that Facebook tracks, it also tracks user interaction data, advertisement interaction data, different diagnostic data including crash logs, battery info, and, as they have described in the app store privacy policy, some ‘sensitive info’. Find Instagram’s data policy here.

Major heads of data collected by Instagram app on iOS

WhatsApp

Now, coming to the application, which compelled me to go through all these privacy policies. The recent change in its privacy policy, if accepted by the user, allows WhatsApp to share the data it collects, with Facebook. WhatsApp, which was adopted by the majority of the 2Billion current users because of privacy and security features, end to end encryption, etc, has sparked the apprehension of the exact opposite.

Check last version of privacy policy of WhatsApp.

Now check the current version(applicable from Feb 2021).

Can you spot the difference?

WhatsApp collects the similar data that other three applications of Facebook does. Now Facebook will have access to the your WhatsApp information also.

Major heads of data collected by WhatsApp on iOS

LinkedIn

The social media of the professionals, the best professional network we boast about, is also a front runner in the race. Being present in different platforms as application, website, plugins, delegated authentication apis etc, the collected data becomes as impactful as Facebook. Find LinkedIn’s privacy policy here.

Major heads of data collected by LinkedIn App on iOS

Snapchat

The application which pioneered multiple features which almost all of the other applications in the industry followed, is also not very far behind in the game. The trend setter which came up with features like story, disappearing messages etc, also collects a lot of information from its app. As it doesn’t have website version of the application, it doesn’t have much scope of doing cross-site tracking. Find Snapchat’s privacy policy here. Snapchat is quite transparent about the usage of the user information, which I kind of liked about it. Check it’s data usage policy here.

Major heads of data collected by Snapchat App on iOS

Slack

Another standalone app, which is quite popular in a business environment. Being a standalone application and mostly used in professional aspects, the collected data is quite enriching. Here is Slack’s privacy policy.

Major heads of data collected by Slack App on iOS

Tinder

The most popular matchmaker, Tinder, also collects a lot of data, which are not exactly required to excel in matchmaking. Find Tinder’s privacy policy here.

Major heads of data collected by Tinder App on iOS

Telegram

While reading Telegram’s privacy policy, the following sentences made me extremely happy.

Telegram is an open-source free messaging service that runs on donations. It doesn’t collect data to serve ads, so, from the data privacy perspective, it is quite safe. It doesn’t have end to end encryption for all the messages, which might be a point of concern for some people. The application collects minimal amount of data which is required only for improving the application.

Major heads of data collected by Telegram App on iOS

Signal

Another opensource messaging application, which is quite secure, has end to end encryption and does not collect any data. It the safest messaging application I found in the entire endeavor of understanding the data collection activities by different applications. Find Signal’s privacy policy here.

Major heads of data collected by Signal App on iOS

After going through so many policies, I will definitely start trying to avoid application which collects data more than required, to safeguard my online experience. It is always the choice of an individual in such cases. Take wise decisions, stay informed, stay alert. Wish you a very happy new year.

www.sumitpal.tech, IIM Lucknow, Samsung Research, Jadavpur University