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Your Apps Are Spying On You
By: Danny Flamberg
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I’m not a privacy nut. But I was surprised to learn that the average app on my smartphone rats out my name, my email address, my current GPS coordinates, my age, my gender, and other data points to three different third-party sources without my conscious permission or real knowledge as part of their routine functions.

The good news for marketers is that mountains of real-time consumer behavioral data are becoming available through smartphone and app use. Seventy-three percent of Android apps and forty-seven percent of iPhone apps share data with online services.

The iffy news for consumers is that their privacy, such as it is, is being compromised, and usually without their knowledge, according to a new study of 110 of the most popular free apps in nine categories conducted by a team of data scientists, titled “Who Knows What About Me?” Among the apps studied, data is automatically transmitted to as few as one and as many as 17 outside sources.

Many mobile apps, like Pinterest, Drugs.com, Nike+, or Walgreens, share potentially sensitive user data like System ID, SIM card ID, IMEI, MEID, email address, and other bits with third parties. They do not need visible permission requests to access the data. Some apps transmit search words like “interferon” or herpes” that could indicate medical status or existing conditions.

Google, Apple, and Facebook are the biggest recipients of these silent data streams running in the background, which can be used to unmask and track an individual. Moreover this data, matched and combined with data already collected and stored by Google, Apple, Facebook, or others like Experian, Acxiom, or First Data, can be used to produce a nuanced and robust profile of an individual and/or a group of like-minded people.

There is a clear, if under-articulated, quid pro quo built into app use. There is no free lunch. App users trade utility for data. In a Pew Study of 2000 Americans, 54 percent of responders decided not to install an app after understanding how much personal data they would need to share to use it. Another 30 percent uninstalled an app on learning about how much data was collected or transferred that they did not want to share.

Forewarned is forearmed!


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About the Author
Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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