The Wall Street Journal has a pretty interesting story up. They examined 101 iPhone and Android apps and found that it transmits tons of data back to the maker or to ad networks, not necessarily with the user’s consent, or knowledge. Interestingly, iPhone apps were worse offenders in this test than Android apps.
The kind of data transmitted includes the phones’ unique IDs, geographic location, etc.
colour us sceptical that this is as big a deal as it seems, however.
First of all, the WSJ story isn’t clear as to when the data is transmitted back to the app maker, or back to third party ad networks or analytics firms, which is quite different. Ad networks and analytics software take anonymous data and use it to perform targeting or find out how you use your device. They work very hard to keep that data secure and anonymous. Targeting and analytics have been online for fifteen years now and it doesn’t seem to have hurt anybody. In the case of analytics, they provide a very valuable service by helping make sites and apps better. And of course without online advertising, many sites and apps we love wouldn’t be out there anymore.
The WSJ contends that unlike on the web, where you can turn off cookies on your web browser, there’s no way to opt out of such data transmission on apps. But in our iPhone’s settings, we can bar apps from transmitting geo data, and when apps that are allowed do so, a tiny arrow icon appears on the top right of the screen.
They do note, which is interesting, that mobile ad firms use the phones’ unique IDs to do targeting which, unlike cookies, can’t be deleted or opted out of. But is that such a big a deal? Only a tiny fraction of web users turn off cookies when browsing the web, and a device’s unique ID is not at all the same thing as a device owner’s identity. People have several phones or change them.
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