It’s rare these days to see actual journalism practiced. But Sam Schnechner and Mark Secada did yeoman’s work on their recent piece in the WSJ with thorough research conducted to garner data on the use of apps supplied by both Apple and Alphabet’s Google.
(Note to journalists: Parroting someone else’s views or promoting your own views without substantiation is not journalism – real journalists do the research necessary to support their articles, as Schnechner and Secada have done.) So here’s the gist of what they found: People freely use apps to chronicle personal data and information – three of the most popular being Flo Health Inc.’s Flo Period and Ovulation Tracker; The real estate app, Realtor.com, owned by Move, Inc.; and Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor. And of the 70 apps that they tested – yes, tested – they actually sent data to the app and tracked where it wound up – the journalists found that 11 of the most widely used apps collected the personal and private data of users and immediately passed it on to Facebook – whether the app user was a client of Facebook or not – that’s the scary part. That means those of us who have studiously avoided anything to do with Facebook could still have our personal information logged into their data base, if we’re prone to use the apps that freely share the data they receive. It’s also important to know that, in addition to sharing with Facebook, all apps integrate code known as software-development kits, or SDKs, that help developers integrate the features and functions of their apps. Thus, any data shared with an app will also likely be shared with the maker of the embedded SDK. Users of apps are able to indicate whether they want their contacts or locations shared, but that’s the end of the obligations for privacy, as far as the app developers are concerned. Thus, any personal information entered into an app site can be freely shared with any and all. It’s not hard to imagine what Facebook would want with all that data – recent revelations of their selling personal data have been uncovered and, for that reason, the company is already under scrutiny from Washington and European regulators. In response to the findings of the WSJ team, Facebook has said that it instructs app developers not to send it “health, financial information or other categories of sensitive information.” Riiight. Then, when they are receiving large quantities of these very data, why is it that they have not contacted the app developers to tell them to stop the practice – ? The company spokesman also stated that, “We require app developers to be clear with their users about the information they are sharing with us.” Again, riiiiight. Apple, when approached by the WSJ team, said that the company requires app developers to seek “prior user consent” for collecting user data and that “When we hear of any developer violating these strict privacy terms and guidelines, we quickly investigate and, if necessary, take immediate action.” Well, then, I suppose we can all expect that at least 11 apps will be removed from their app services. A Google spokesman declined to comment, when approached by the WSJ team. Thus, for readers’ knowledge and information, my word of caution would be: “App users, beware.” Your data and identity is being shared – at least with Facebook and, very likely, with a wide range of other entities.