99% of iOS apps investigated by the WSJ contained secret trackers

99% of iOS apps investigated by the WSJ contained secret trackers
Apple brags that it doesn't sell iPhone users' information to third party companies. The customer is not our product is the mantra repeated often by CEO Tim Cook. But that doesn't stop apps downloaded onto an iPhone from the App Store from using personal data. The Wall Street Journal reports today that two of its writers decided to check out what is actually going on with some apps installed from the App Store. This investigation was started after one of the authors realized that an innocent looking app called Curious World, based on the Curious George character, was collecting information about her son including his name and age, and sending the data to Facebook.

The CEO of Curious World blamed "rogue code in the app that was mistakenly sending this data," and said neither his company nor Facebook used the information. Facebook's Terms of Service state that it doesn't allow information from children under 13 to be collected and Apple is reportedly investigating this monkey business.

But as we mentioned, this led two Journal scribes to check out 80 iOS apps promoted in the App Store as "Apps We Love." 79 of those apps had third-party trackers collecting personal data for ads, analytics and marketing purposes. The average app had four trackers installed. This data goes to companies like Facebook (even if you're not a member), Google and other companies. But iOS users might be hearing some good news from CEO Cook this Monday when Apple's annual WWDC Developers Conference kicks off. The Journal says that it has learned from someone close to the situation that Apple will limit third-party tracking in the apps available from the Kids category of the App Store. Before we pass judgment on Apple's plans, we need to wait to hear exactly what it intends to do.

This is not just an issue with iOS apps


While the aforementioned Curious World app showed that it contained seven third-party trackers, you might be surprised to learn that this does not violate any federal laws. Sephora's app had ten third-party trackers, which the personal care company said was done to improve customer experience. The Journal used special software that allowed one of the paper's reporters to see how her personal data was being collected including her searches under the term "depression." One meditation app collected the writer's IP address and sent the latitude and longitude of her location to a tracker's servers three times in the space of five minutes. The tracking firm, named Glo, Inc., had an excuse as they all do. It claimed to need the data to make sure that it is following regulations in different areas of the world.


Some excuse this behavior by saying that it is okay to allow companies to use your data if you install a free version of an app instead of the premium version. After all, even developers need to eat. But that excuse doesn't hold water; the Journal found no change when it upgraded to premium versions of the apps it was studying.

This is not an iOS-only issue. Android apps also track a user's behavior. And the report says that Android apps are worse when it comes to sending information on a device to trackers and developers. Even if you turn your personal data into gibberish on the iPhone by going to Settings > Privacy > Advertising and toggling on Limit Ad Tracking, the trackers will use other information. Data like the OS you use, your IP address and your carrier can be matched up with anonymous information to track you.

You can try to limit the amount of data that is collected by going to Settings > Privacy > Location Services on your iPhone. Turn off all the apps that you don't want tracking every little move you make. Android users can do this by navigating to Settings > Security & Location.

Whatever Tim Cook announces on Monday, it certainly won't be enough to stop all of the tracking. There is just too much money involved to get third parties to stop this behavior. But it might be the first step on a journey that will cover hundreds and hundreds of miles.

FEATURED VIDEO

27 Comments

36. Bondurant

Posts: 787; Member since: Jun 04, 2014

Meanwhile, CIA claims huawei is spying on people. Trying to cover up spying by Apple and Android ?

33. mootu

Posts: 1541; Member since: Mar 16, 2017

28. AlienKiss

Posts: 360; Member since: May 21, 2019

As long as you have a connection to the internet (wifi, data etc) and software that uses it, there will always be something sending some type of your data. It's inevitable. From a programming point of view, there are always things that can affect the security of a device. It can be os related (which is the worst), or it can be a 3rd party app designed that way. Now, ios users can't say anything. Smartphones were design for surveillance in general. We just happen to need them and 99% of the users use theirs in guest mode, not administrator mode. How many of you have your phone rooted or jailbreaked? How many of you even know what I mean? I'm not saying android is better or you should switch immediately, I'm just saying that you should not believe that ios is indestructible and 100% safe, especially if someone that makes a living out of selling smartphones tells you that. I was never an apple fan for different reasons: no SD card slot, silly iTunes for everything, features that should come as a standard don't even exist - USB drive connection, usb otg etc. But the worst thing is how restricted it is and feels. After using Android for years, when I use an apple phone I feel I've been punished and sent to a digital prison.. No thanks! I want open-source freedom where I'm the administrator!

20. tedkord

Posts: 17529; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

But... walled garden... secure, closed ecosystem... customer not the product...

19. wickedwilly

Posts: 791; Member since: Sep 19, 2018

Phone Arena were talking about Apple myths just the other day. This is yet another myth that was never true, yet iPhone fans still believe their phones are secure and their data is not used.

17. Back_from_beyond

Posts: 1489; Member since: Sep 04, 2015

Shocked!!! Well... not that shocked since this has been the case for years and proven more than once.

13. Valdomero

Posts: 708; Member since: Nov 13, 2012

By today's era, It's almost impossible to be off the grid of ads or the likes of Facebook. The only way is to become a hermit or abandon anything related to the internet for the rest of your life. But guess what? even when someone take a picture at you or you're in a group in the photo, your face and location during that time is already available to the internet at the very moment that picture is uploaded, even if you didn't uploaded the picture yourself. Regarding Apple, it depends if their own apps sell the data to other companies or don't, 3rd party apps on the other hand... those are the real ones to blame, if they post the app on the store and they state they gather your location to give you a better service, Apple trust their statement. One thing I can blame Apple for is they should have a better policy around this.

16. cmdacos

Posts: 4422; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

What happens on your phone stays on your phone- Apple Where in this statement does it say (only when you use Apple created apps)?

18. Vancetastic

Posts: 1967; Member since: May 17, 2017

Pretty hard to argue with that...

12. OneLove123

Posts: 1332; Member since: Aug 28, 2018

No way!!! The sheep told me.

6. HumbleJ06

Posts: 102; Member since: Aug 10, 2015

"And the report says that Android apps are worse when it comes to sending information on a device to trackers and developers." It is great when you throw a statement out there without backing it up then jump to another topic. /s Not saying it is true or not true, just saying if you make a statement at least use some facts to back it up. Some of us might actually like to know why the statement was made.

8. jove39

Posts: 2153; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

When apple is maligned, phonearena and other site's journalists/writers try to throw mud on other companies/softwares...just to show that apple is less dirty and distract you from the fact that apple is also dirty!

11. nikhil23

Posts: 507; Member since: Dec 07, 2016

Simple. Bad Journalism. When an article randomly states something without showing proof or citing other article, it loses credibility

5. Vokilam

Posts: 1487; Member since: Mar 15, 2018

This may cause a class action lawsuit. If Apple says they don’t do it, but actually did - they are to be sued!! As an iPhone users - This news pisses me off.

7. Subie

Posts: 2467; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

If this was happening because of IOS or one of Apple's own apps, then yes. Otherwise good luck! The fact is these are third party apps that users have chosen to install onto their iPhones. Therefore it could be argued that the user along with the developer have chosen to make themselves the customer. There's also the part of the article that states "does not violate any federal laws".

4. Subie

Posts: 2467; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

Here is an irony. Many in Society have chosen to share more and more of their personal lives on social media. Facebook, Instagram, and the list goes on. Yet those same people are the ones now complaining about loss of privacy. I'm not saying that app tracking is right or wrong, I'm just seeing a bit of irony here...

1. IT-Engineer

Posts: 584; Member since: Feb 26, 2015

Well that was expected.

2. Phonehex

Posts: 778; Member since: Feb 16, 2016

So much for the "FABLED" iOS apps are far superior to the android apps . "Superior app choice and quality" etc etc garbage .

10. blingblingthing

Posts: 988; Member since: Oct 23, 2012

Darn, alot of these Apple myths getting debunked hard. Even the good ole, go to "smoothness" claim went away since the OnePlus 7Pro came to town. What will Apple fans cling to this year?

14. lyndon420

Posts: 6943; Member since: Jul 11, 2012

The faux luxury ego trip that almost always accompanies the apple logo...they've been clinging to that for years now lol.

15. AxelFoley unregistered

Benchmark scores

49. blingblingthing

Posts: 988; Member since: Oct 23, 2012

Lol. That's the only one left.

3. sgodsell

Posts: 7679; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Apple allows wants people to believe that they are good for your privacy and security. Yet Apple is one of the worst when it comes to privacy and security. I guess Apple can justify its customers privacy and security, when it controls and sells its customers data for a profit. That's okay in Apple eyes, right Apple? Hypocrites.

9. lyndon420

Posts: 6943; Member since: Jul 11, 2012

Yup. I think the only ones would be surprised by such a thing would be iOS users lol.

35. TheOracle1

Posts: 2340; Member since: May 04, 2015

On a related note, I replaced my old adblocker exactly two weeks ago. The new one has a counter with the number of ad domains, tracking scripts etc blocked in apps and on the web. So far it's over 143,000 which is over 10,000 per day. Some are obviously repetitive but it's a good indication of what's really going on in the background. IOS would be no different if the same adblocker was installed.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

Latest Stories

This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. You can order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients or customers at https://www.parsintl.com/phonearena or use the Reprints & Permissions tool that appears at the bottom of each web page. Visit https://www.parsintl.com/ for samples and additional information.
FCC OKs Cingular's purchase of AT&T Wireless