You Think It’s Just You and Your SmartPhone…But, Your App Is Watching You!

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With the emergence of digital media come privacy concerns that didn’t exist in previous years.  Many smart phone apps are designed to track user information–including GPS location–without the user’s explicit consent or knowledge that this is happening. In my class this week, I read about a study that Groupon, a popular app that offers local deals to consumers, was found to track a user’s location more than 5,000 times over a 14-day span! Groupon’s senior management simply responded that this was necessary to offer the best deals to consumers. Read more about this case here. It is very important for users to read the fine print when signing up for any app. Some apps do have clear privacy policies found within the terms of service that explain exactly what information the app will be accessing. Other apps are not so straightforward with this. Therefore, it is important to only purchase apps from trusted sources and to be aware that in some cases, your information can be sold to third party data companies without your knowledge or permission.

In addition to location, apps can track consumers’ preferences based on purchase history, web browsing, data cache on a smart phone, contact lists, friends’ lists on social media, and even information shared on the smart phone itself through messaging. Where do consumers stand on having their information shared with (or without) their explicit consent? 38% of respondents to a 2013 TRUSTe Privacy Index Study reported that they are OK with having their information shared in exchange for a free or lower cost app, whereas 43% said absolutely not! 19% were torn in the middle and answered “maybe” this is OK.

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It is also important to consider what content is on your mobile device that could be compromised in the case that your device is lost or stolen. In the age of bringing our own mobile devices to work, there are potential privacy concerns that confidential corporate data could be breached as well as your personal information if your phone is lost or hacked.

This video provides some great tips for securing your phone or mobile device.

Steps You Should Take:

  1. Set a passcode on the lock screen or a fingerprint pattern that must be inputted to access the device.
  2. Make it easy to find or lock down a lost or stolen phone.
  3. Increase defenses against hackers by only downloading apps from trusted sellers.
  4. Use public WiFi hotspots cautiously. Do not send personal information on these networks, such as making a credit card purchase.
  5. Use multi-step authentication on apps that offer it.

Question for You: As the survey asked, are you willing to share at least some data in exchange for a free or low-cost app or deal? Why or why not? Please respond in the comments below or on Twitter.

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4 thoughts on “You Think It’s Just You and Your SmartPhone…But, Your App Is Watching You!

  1. I think that data security is going to be increasingly a concern for society. I use several apps that track my location for points and rewards, but I feel like the financial rewards are worth it for those specified apps. For the rest of my apps, barring GPS/Directions/Maps, I have gone into the settings and turned off my location tracker. I never access my banking site via unsecured wi-fi, and maintain credit tracker programs to monitor my identity. However, I was part of a hacking breach in the government databases last month. I got a letter than my current address, social security number and other data was hacked when someone broke into the system. At least I get 3 years free monitoring, but it makes you realize, that even the safest systems are vulnerable. It may be more of a question of WHEN you will have your information stolen, rather than IF

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    • Jen, thank you for commenting! I also turn off my GPS/location tracking for all apps except Maps. One app that can be a concern is Facebook when you are “checking in” at certain places. By checking in, you are actually giving Facebook permission to track your whereabouts, and many do not realize this. I hate that your data was breached even while you were working to stay so secure! My boss recently had his Gmail account hacked, so I think you have a good point that even the “safest” seeming apps can be compromised, and that most of us will in fact, experience having our data stolen at some point or another–WHEN, not IF.

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  2. I personally think this is scary. Companies are learning far too much about us and I do think it’s a violation of privacy. If an app can look at what you’ve text your friend that seems so wrong. I will be very careful downloading apps going forward. I already try to limit my presence online from not posting on Facebook, don’t use twitter or Instagram, and don’t use any other online forum either. I hope others will start to agree more with the 43% that said no way!!

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    • Emily, thank you for sharing! It is scary, and it is a very real topic that we as consumers should be discussing more openly as digital media becomes more prevalent in our daily lives. Limiting your online presence and picking and choosing which apps you download seems like a very smart strategy to me. I was also surprised at the number of people who were willing to share their data in exchange for a good deal. However, this is becoming more and more common. Think about this marketing strategy: “Sign up for our email list to receive a free Bloomin’ Onion appetizer.” – Outback. “Sign up for our email list to receive a free Smoothie!”- Smoothie King “Register for our loyalty club to receive special discounts and promotions”- Ann Taylor Loft, Bath and Body Works/almost every retail store! We must be cognizant of WHO we are giving our personal information to and for what purpose. At the end of the day, those small incentive freebies may not be worth it.

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