Can I decide what data smartphone apps collect about me?

By now, we have all become aware of what type of data we’re willing to share with companies. Major data breaches from the last couple of years, such as the Equifax, Yahoo and Capital One Bank ones, have made us more conscious of the personal information we share online and with whom. The truth is that we automatically agree to share our personal details from the moment we download an app on our smartphone in order to use a particular service provided. Usually, downloading an app provides companies with more direct access to your information than a visit to their website will. In fact, having access to our data is key for many of those apps and services to operate. Huge technology companies like Google and Facebook exist, and are profitable, because they can successfully monetise the data we share with them.

Which apps collect more data?

Most apps collect information such as an email address, name, age, gender, live location, home address, bank account, interests, to name just a few. But

there are apps that collect more personal information than others. Simply said, apps that collect the most data for you are the ones where you are the focus. These could be social network sites like Facebook and Instagram, dating apps like Tinder and Grinder, and even streaming services like Spotify and Netflix.

In most cases, the personal information that these apps collect about you is used to provide a more personalised experience when using these services. For example, when you open the Netflix app, it shows you content that the app thinks it will be of interest to you based on information such as age, interests and geolocation, as well as what you have watched previously.

Is there anything I can do to prevent an app from collecting my personal data?

Unfortunately, most apps won’t provide you with the ‘full experience’ unless you agree to share this data with them. However, this is not to say that you don’t have that option. You need to remember that you are in control of your data and only you can decide what information to give away and who to share it with.

One way to keep most of your personal information to yourself is to leave as many fields blank when registering a profile on an app as possible. Often, the mandatory fields are those for your name, email address, password and your bank details (if you’re registering for a paid for service). This means that you have the options to not fill in information such as your gender, interests, phone number, etc.

Experts say that it’s sometimes better to pay for an app than download a free one of the same kind. The reason for this is because free apps are only free because in exchange consumers give out personal data, which is often a lot more valuable than a small monthly fee, as this data allows advertisers to target them with personalised ads.

In most cases, when downloading an app, you’ll see a Terms & Conditions list pop out that explains how your data is used. It is also often at this stage where you can grant access to information and things like your phone’s camera and photos, location data or contacts list. If you have an Android smartphone, the list of permission pops out each time a new app is downloaded. iPhone apps on the other hand request the same permissions, but only after the apps are installed and running.

It is also worth checking your smartphone’s settings to make sure that apps aren’t collecting data they don’t need.

Here’s how to do it on an Android device:

  • Open the Settings app.
  • Tap Apps & notifications, followed by Advanced App permissions.
  • Select a permission, like Calendar, Location, or Phone.
  • Choose which apps should have access to that permission and remove the permissions for the apps you don’t want to have access

Here’s how to do it on an iOS device:

  • Open the Settings app.
  • Scroll down and tap the Privacy icon.
  • Select a permission, like Calendar, Location Services, or Camera.
  • Choose which apps should have access to that permission and remove the permissions for the apps you don’t want to have access.

On Data Privacy Day 2021, Apple shared a report which illustrates how companies track user data across websites and apps. The company also highlighted how privacy features across Apple products provide users with more transparency and control. The company has said that will soon introduce an App Tracking Transparency tool which will require apps to get the user’s permission before tracking their data across third party apps and websites.

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