We Checked 250 iPhone Apps—This Is How They’re Tracking You – The New York Times

When millions of iPhones update to iOS 14.5 in the coming weeks, it will become much more obvious that many of the most common apps—including weather trackers, dating apps, and games—are advertising-data tools as much as they are anything else. When you open apps for the first time after Apple’s latest system update, you’ll get a pop-up asking to “track your activity,” and your approval will give permission for developers to link information about you to an advertising profile that can track you across apps (and across the web). On the App Store, Apple’s recently introduced “privacy nutrition label” helps detail what information each app seeks to collect, store, and share, but the implications aren’t always clear.

We decided to see what we could learn about data tracking on iPhones and iPads by reading 250 App Store labels, including those for some of the most popular apps.1 We found that most of them do indeed collect and share a lot about you, and that some of the longtime worst offenders haven’t changed their behavior just because there’s a system pop-up or store label these days.

Understanding Apple’s three privacy categories

Apple divides its privacy labels into three categories, with the goal of helping you understand what data an app collects and how that data is used.

Head into the Apple App Store, and below the reviews you’ll find an App Privacy section consisting of three categories:

  • Data Used to Track You (or your device) and shared across different apps, ad networks, and companies
  • Data Linked to You (and your real identity) that is collected by the app and company but not shared
  • Data Not Linked to You that the company generally aggregates into larger statistics

Each category lists any of the 14 different types of data that the app collects and uses, as self-reported by the app’s developer. This labeling gets complicated quickly, and the same type of data can appear in multiple categories. To really understand how your privacy is affected by these new tracking-request pop-ups and how to deal with each one thoughtfully, you’ll need to understand the labels. (Though if you’d prefer to skip straight to the how-to portion for disabling all of these prompts, see our instructions.)

Data Used to Track You

Nearly two-thirds of the apps we looked at indicated the collection of some types of data under Data Used to Track You. Apple’s definition of tracking refers to any data collected in an app about a person or a device (your iPhone or iPad) that is linked to data collected by another party, such as a data broker or advertising network. Advertising companies often defend the practice by noting that the information collected is typically tied to a unique number, not a person, but it’s often trivial to link a device to a person. And if you see “Contact Info” listed as data an app can collect, that can include your name, address, phone number, email address, and “Any other information that can be used to contact the user outside the app.”

Of the 20 weather apps we looked at, 17 of them indicated on their label that they gathered data to track devices for the purpose of advertising, and 14 of those used location information to track devices.

Even without your contact info, the data your app …….

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/blog/how-iphone-apps-track-you/

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