Greed is why Facebook knows when some iOS users are having their period, or need to diet

Greed is why Facebook knows when some iOS users are having their period, or need to diet
The Wall Street Journal tested 70 popular iOS apps and found that 11 of them are sending personal information-your personal information-to Facebook. This appears to be the case whether or not you signed into the app using Facebook, or are even a Facebook member. The Journal says that this is done through a program from Facebook's Software Development Kit (SDK) called "App Events" that allows developers to report to Facebook the activities of their apps' users. The good news is that none of the top ten iOS finance apps turned over user data; however, six of the 15 health and fitness apps tested turned over sensitive information (such as a user's weight) to Facebook immediately after collecting it.

While users can decide not to give an app permission to gather information from their phone, this doesn't include data that is entered by the user directly into the app. The Journal gives a few good examples, including one app called Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor. The newspaper found that as soon as the app calculates the user's heart rate, that information is sent to Facebook. And by the way, this is most popular app of its kind in the App Store.

Here's another example. Flo Health Inc.’s Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker is used by 25 million women, and the app's title pretty much sums up its function. The data provided by the user of the app, such as information about her menstrual cycle and whether she desires to get pregnant, is sent to Facebook. In other words, if you use that app, Facebook knows whether you are ovulating or not.

The company behind the app told the Journal that it only sends Facebook "non-critical" information and that such data is "depersonalized." But as the report notes, Facebook does have a way to match up information with Facebook users. And when Flo sends its data to Facebook, it includes a "unique advertising identifier" that can be connected to a particular device or profile. The company behind the app says that while it conducts an audit, it will limit the use of this data.

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Another app called sends information on homes that its users are looking at to Facebook. The information shared with Facebook includes the prices of the listings viewed by the user, and the homes that were checked off as "favorites."

The reason that Facebook collects this information comes down to one word: Greed

A company called Disconnect was paid by the Journal to conduct the testing. The company's Chief Technology Officer, Patrick Jackson, said that this dissemination of user information is "completely independent of the functionality of the app." And Android users could also be facing the same issue. The software used by the WSJ does not work on Android, but a cybersecurity firm called Defensive Lab Agency found that one app that sends info to Facebook from iOS users, also does the same on Android . The company behind this app, BetterMe: Weight Loss Workouts, changed its privacy policy after the Journal contacted it; the policy now states that the app sends information to Facebook to calculate "the average weight and height of our users, how many users chose a particular problem area of their body, and other interactions."

Facebook says that using the "App Events" program, found in its SDK, to collect user data is "industry standard practice," and the information is used to personalize advertising and content. Facebook adds that it also improves the experience of a member when he/she uses the social network. A spokeswoman for Facebook states that the company doesn't use sensitive information, and deletes some that it receives, like social security numbers.

But greed is greed. Targeted ads, which after all is at the bottom of this whole mess, brings in more ad revenue for companies like Facebook. These ads command a higher price because they are being shown to consumers who have already revealed a preference for such a product, or who have a condition that a certain product might alleviate. For example, let's say that a particular Facebook user enters data on an app that shows him to be overweight. Companies that produce diet aids would pay more to advertise to this person on Facebook since he might be more receptive to the marketing.

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