Are your Apps Watching You?

A great – albeit scary – article published by the Wall Street Journal earlier today depicts a trend affecting a large number of popular apps: the transmission of potentially identifying information back to a network of companies willing to pay to know more about apps users. Sensitive information such as phone numbers, location, the phone owner’s name and the device’s unique ID is often shared without the user’s consent. The magazine benchmarked 101 popular apps, and found out that roughly half of them transmitted at least the phone’s unique ID to other companies, as well as the handset location. Five of them even shared things such as age, gender and other personal details. Why? Apps, and especially free apps, require funding to pay developers for their work, and the most simple way to obtain that money is to share some information about the apps users and their habits, in order to help ad networks build targeted advertising campaigns. For instance, the popular music streaming app Pandora sends gender, age, location and phone identifiers to several ad networks, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Pandora – A free but “chatty” app

Thanks to the use of the device’s unique ID number, ad networks use the information collected from the apps to build the profile of the phone owner. And even though Apple reviews each app before it makes it into the App Store, and requires developers who plan to share potentially identifying information to ask for some kind of permission first, the Wall Street Journal found out that many apps simply do not follow that rule. Ad sales on phones is still a fairly small market, as it only accounts for less than 5% of the $23 billion spent yearly on Internet advertising. However, it is also a high growth segment, and mobile ads expenditures are expected to rise sharply within the next couple of years. [Photo credit: wsj.com]