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Your iPhone is probably packed with thousands of trackers sending private data

Jacob Yothment

Published

The Washington Post tested an ordinary iPhone and found it had more than 5,400 trackers that were sending private data without the owner’s awareness.

Phone data

This data included email addresses, phone numbers, and location data. 

In the story, the writer, Geoffrey Palmer, conducts an experiment to see how much data his iPhone is sending while he sleeps. It turns out that even though he isn’t actively using his phone, apps are sending data to entities like marketing companies and research firms in the background.

Over the course of a month, these trackers would have guzzled 1.5 gigabytes of data. 

How serious is this problem?

Believe it or not, a lot of apps do have legitimate reasons for sending your data. For example, GrubHub needs to know where you are if you want food delivered.

According to an article from 9to5Mac, many credit card and banking apps regularly use data to send signals to help detect fraudulent activity. In cases like these, you absolutely need these apps to send data.

Finally, many free apps are only free because of ads. In order to show you these ads, these apps need to send and receive data. If there are no ads, there are no free apps.

Alternatively, there are instances where apps are problematically sending your data.

Although there are legitimate reasons as to why an app would send personal information, Palmer did raise a good point.

“The problem is, the more places personal data flies, the harder it becomes to hold companies accountable for bad behavior — including inevitable breaches,” Palmer wrote.

What can Apple do to help?

App permission

If you’ve ever downloaded a new app on your iPhone, you’ve probably seen the message asking for your permission to allow the app to access your data.

This is routine for apps you download on iPhone as Apple wants/needs to be transparent. However, the transparency stops here as it often doesn’t tell you what the app is doing in the background. 

Most apps don’t tell you what companies are collecting your data and how they are keeping it safe. This opens the door for concern as you have no idea whether or not the data that has already been collected is safe.

Palmer suggests that Apple should be more accountable about what apps are doing with your personal data.

“Apple could require apps to label when they’re using third-party trackers,” Palmer wrote. “If I opened the DoorDash app and saw nine tracker notices, it might make me think twice about using it.”

DoorDash Download now ►
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Should I be worried?

If you’re concerned about what apps are doing in the background, we would recommend downloading Datally. Unfortunately, that’s only available for Android phones.

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Through Datally, you can disable apps that run in the background, and you can whitelist apps that you want to have unrestricted access.

As to whether or not you should be worried about your phone sending data, the answer is kinda. 

Apps send data in the background all the time. Heck, it seems like we write a story about Facebook acting irresponsibly with personal data once a week. Oh look, there’s another one!

There are plenty of reasons why you should throw your phone out the window and go off the grid altogether. However, if you pay close attention to what you are downloading and the permissions you give it, you can keep your data safe. Use common sense and best practices to protect your privacy, and you can keep yourself protected.

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