Privacy: Apps find holes in Apple’s armor
Despite all of Apple’s promises, “iPhone privacy is broken,” said Joanna Stern in The Wall Street Journal—and you can blame the apps. CEO Tim Cook has sold his firm’s devices as the privacy-conscious choice in the phone wars, but the moment you download an app from Apple’s store, you’ll likely find your phone “littered with secret trackers, slurping up your personal data and sending it to more places than you can count.” Of 80 apps I recently tested with a colleague, all but one had tracking software; “the apps averaged four trackers apiece.” Seemingly innocuous apps turned out to be privacy sinkholes. Meditation apps, with an average of six trackers each, were among the worst offenders. One called Peace sent all my search terms to Facebook, “including ‘best for anxiety’ and ‘depression.’” One kids’ app collected information specifically prohibited by Apple, including “my son’s age, name, and every book he ever tapped.” The response from the company when we asked about that? “Whoopsies!”
Apple is strict about making apps get permission before using an iPhone’s camera or microphone, said Geoffrey Fowler in The Washington Post, but it “turns more of a blind eye to what apps do with data we provide them or they generate about us.” Many apps send a constant stream of data even while you sleep. Yelp’s app sends a packet of data to the company every five minutes. In a week of monitoring, I encountered 5,400 trackers on my iPhone. “Yes, trackers are a problem on phones running Android, too.” But we were supposed to “count on Apple to sweat the privacy details,” right? Apple has taken aim at Google in the past, but now Google, which controls the Android operating system, is firing back, said Jon Porter in TheVerge.com. Google CEO Sundar Pichai took a “thinly veiled swipe at Apple” last month with an op-ed arguing that privacy “cannot be a luxury good” offered only to “people who can afford to buy premium products and services.” Google, he wrote, will protect consumers’ privacy through responsible data collection.
Surprised that apps on your iPhone are tracking you? asked Paul Wagenseil in TomsGuide.com. “Duh. This is what third-party smartphone apps do.” The smartphone is the greatest surveillance device in all of history, and almost every app you download from Apple’s App Store or the Google Play store uses some of its spying features—such as GPS location tracking—to make money. Privacy and smartphones are simply incompatible. The best you can do is limit your exposure by installing only the apps you’ll really use. ■