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.

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92 Comments

1. IT-Engineer

Posts: 545; Member since: Feb 26, 2015

Well that was expected.

2. Phonehex

Posts: 763; 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: 963; 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: 6790; 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: 963; Member since: Oct 23, 2012

Lol. That's the only one left.

23. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

The article is saying that iOS apps are better than Android, because they track you less...

29. mootu

Posts: 1520; Member since: Mar 16, 2017

And yet they provide exactly zero examples of proof. 79 of 80 Apple recommended apps with an average of 4 trackers each is pretty damning.

37. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

There are plenty of examples on PhoneArena; are you too lazy to look for them yourself?

34. TheOracle1

Posts: 2264; Member since: May 04, 2015

That's like saying Jeffrey Dahmer was better than Ted Bundy because he killed fewer people. Wrong is wrong.

38. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

I'm pretty sure that a kick in the ass would hurt you more than a pinch...

44. tedkord

Posts: 17357; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Especially in your case, since this article obviously left your ass pretty raw to begin.

46. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Just read the WSJ article before talking about my pretty raw ass :).

65. oldskool50

Posts: 1554; Member since: Mar 29, 2019

Depends on how hard you are kicked or pinched.

48. blingblingthing

Posts: 963; Member since: Oct 23, 2012

I was wondering the same thing. Or is R Allen Stanford better than Bernie Madoff since he defrauded less people?

3. sgodsell

Posts: 7368; 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: 6790; 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: 2264; 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.

4. Subie

Posts: 2364; 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...

5. Vokilam

Posts: 1201; 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: 2364; 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".

25. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

They violate GDPR in EU, if the app doesn't tell me it collects personal data. But that's a problem with the developer and not Apple.

30. IT-Engineer

Posts: 545; Member since: Feb 26, 2015

Nope, not according to the EU, in the GDPR law, they both have responsibility. See, you are a customer of Apple and so is the developer too, Apple claims that they check the source code of every app that gets submitted, so that means they are the Gate Keeper. They are the ones you trust, not the developer. That's what apple is trying to fight and change in the US and in the EU, that you as a user are not apples customer in the App store, which is not true.

39. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Each has a responsibility for the data they collect and share; it's not only wrong to be cosidered liable for others, it's illegal in any western country. Apple can only make sure that while on iOS, on its servers, on its apps, through its APIs, cables etc the data is used as stated in the terms; also according to GDPR, Apple needs to make sure that the 3rd party that it transfers data to is GDPR compliant, but once the data leaves its ecosystem, Apple is no longer liable for how it is processed.

76. NarutoKage14

Posts: 1324; Member since: Aug 31, 2016

Well, they make it near impossible to sidestep them in order to not give them the 30% cut they like so you obviously are their customer. The only way to not be Apple's customer in the app store is if Apple is not involved at all whatsoever in the transaction.

24. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Unless the collecting AND the sending of the data happens on iOS, Apple is not liable.

31. mootu

Posts: 1520; Member since: Mar 16, 2017

So that would include Apple selling iTunes user data then? https://www.zdnet.com/article/apple-sued-over-alleged-sale-of-customer-itunes-data/

40. miketer

Posts: 520; Member since: Apr 02, 2015

May 29 is the date on the news. How come this news didn't appear here

41. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

That is just an accusation; if a court of law finds it true, than Apple will be liable (and it will be sued/fined all over the world).

32. IT-Engineer

Posts: 545; Member since: Feb 26, 2015

But the data collection is happening on IOS, didnt you download the App from apples platform called App Store? Didn't you download it to IOS which is Apples operating system? Was it not apple that qualified the app that it is safe to be on the App Store?

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