Sunday, September 9, 2018

Two dozen iOS apps found sharing user location data with third-party firms


Apple has always maintained that they always put their customers’ right to privacy above all else, especially business practices. In fact, during the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, Apple CEO Tim Cook made a statement to the same effect, saying that the company does it utmost to protect its customers’ data instead of monetizing it. Now, a team of researchers from the GuardianApp Project have revealed names of over a dozen iOS apps that have been tracking and sharing location data with monetization firms. 

The researchers have said that the apps they’ve identified amounts the impact of such tracking to “tens of millions of mobile devices.” In many cases, the apps send precise locations and other sensitive, identifiable data “at all times, constantly,” and often with “little to no mention” that location data will be shared with third-parties, say the security researchers. Of course, all this starts with giving the app the permission to access location data on the iOS device. This level of tracking was achieved by embedding packaged code from location data monetization firms into the app’s code-base. 

Then, the app would ask for permission to access location data, justifying it by presenting an obvious benefit. For example, various weather apps can be found in the list published by the research team and a weather app offers the best experience only when it has access to the customer’s location. By granting permission, the apps are then able to collect location data, Bluetooth LE Beacon data, and even Wi-FI SSID. Additionally, the apps would also collect information gathered through the various sensors on the phone and then beam that data package to the firm. In some cases, the tracking was continuous. 

The GurdianApp Project has a page dedicated to the apps that are tracking you and just who they are sharing the collected data with. However, of all the apps listed, there are a few apps that are actually quiet popular, such as TapaTalk, Photobucket and a handful of weather apps. Now it remains to be seen as to how Apple would respond to this cheeky method of collecting and monetizing user data through iOS.    

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