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If you’re worried about privacy, delete these 5 smartphone apps right now

Published Jun 1st, 2021 4:21PM EDT
iPhone app privacy
Image: kite_rin/Adobe

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Just a few days ago, we told you about a new Apple ad released as part of its “Privacy. That’s iPhone.” ad campaign. In this particular spot, which you can watch below, viewers follow a man going about his daily routine, and in each “scene” he’s using a common app that facilitates everything from a coffee shop order to hailing a taxi ride. As the ad progresses, a growing number of people (who represent creepy, privacy-flouting apps) squeeze in beside and around him, creeping on him, and spying on what he’s doing. Until, one by one, the protagonist of the ad uses Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature to erase all of them from existence, Thanos finger-snap style.

This time next week, the same concepts should get at least some degree of attention during WWDC 2021, when Apple executives and especially CEO Tim Cook are likely to tout the myriad privacy-related benefits of the iPhone as well as the rest of Apple’s ecosystem. This has all, of course, been front and center in recent weeks because of the cold war between Apple and Facebook that’s gone somewhat hot, with Apple now clamping down on Facebook’s business model (at least among iPhone users, which sits within the walled garden the Apple controls) that involves the social network tracking user behavior in order to serve up highly targeted ads.

With Apple recently introducing a new ad unit of its own to the company’s proprietary App Store, and coming roughly in tandem with the Facebook crackdown, at least one observer has described what Apple did here as having “robbed the mob’s bank.” Still, the iPhone maker’s moves here leave something to be desired among the hardest core of privacy advocates, such as the fact that the App Tracking Transparency feature is turned off by default. And when it comes to iPhone app privacy, too, there are still plenty of unfortunate realities herein that are a bit outside of Apple’s control.

Notwithstanding Apple’s insistence on upholding user privacy for the parts of the iPhone experience that it controls, there are still plenty of apps hoovering up user data — to an extent no doubt unbeknownst to the average user — and using it for multiple purposes that, again, the average user is probably not aware of.

A new report from Blissmark, for example, calls out 3 mobile apps as being particularly egregious when it comes to their degree of creepiness. They include:

  • Facebook, for obvious reasons, such as the degree to which the world’s largest social networking company tracks your off-app activity.
  • Mspy. This one, Blissmark says, is “a stalkerware app that markets itself to parents, offering an opportunity to track their child’s online activity … The app monitors iPhone text messages, phone calls, GPS locations, and activity on other popular applications like WhatsApp and Snapchat.”
  • Words with Friends, which FTC Guardian recently gave a privacy grade of “D.” Yikes. “This popular app is like a fast game of Scrabble,” FTC Guardian notes, “and it’s great for brushing up on your vocabulary or being humbled by small children. However, it’s from the same developer as Draw Something, so it’s no surprise it has the same privacy worries. However, it goes a step further with the ‘Precise location’ permission. While it does use your location for the game, it also uses it to show you location-based ads.”

And here are a couple of honorable mentions, based on a recent report from the cloud storage company pCloud that made a list tracking the same thing:

pCloud found that companies that especially include LinkedIn and Uber Eats, among several others, share the most data with third-party companies. They do it in order to target ads to specific individuals, and because companies need data in order to do so, these are some of the apps that are more than happy to provide it.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.