Various Android and iOS apps are sharing health data with Facebook, without user consent

Facebook is once again in news for receiving personal data of users from various apps related to health and finding homes. According to a report of The Wall Street Journal, Facebook can get the data from these apps even if users are not on Facebook.

Another recent report revealed that Facebook paid its young users, teenagers to install an app that would let the company record their phone and web activities. After the news broke, Apple backed out from some of the developer privileges saying that Facebook is distributing apps which are the only meant for employees to test apps, which is a clear violation of terms agreed.

Around 70 common apps were tested, according to the WSJ report, out of which 11 apps shared sensitive information with Facebook. These apps include Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker, used to track the period cycle. The information shared with Facebook included when a person is having periods or when trying to get pregnant. Realtor, a real estate app, is also reported to share data with Facebook about the listings viewed by users. Also, Instant Heart rate: HR Monitor, a heart-rate app in Apple Store also gives out information to Facebook.

Software-development kit, SDK, by Facebook is used by apps to send data to Facebook, letting developers integrate some of the features it with their apps. SDK has an analytics service which allows developers to track the users’ trends. “Custom app events” are used to send sensitive information like ovulation time to Facebook.
Also Read: Facebook Shuts Down Its VPN App Onavo Amid Data-Mining Controversy
Facebook’s spokesperson clarified the company’s stance saying that it is a standard pattern in the advertising market that information is shared across android or iPhone apps. The main issue is how that information is used by digital advertisers. He said that we ask developers to share information with users consent and do not pass on anything sensitive. In such cases, Facebook itself removes the sensitive data that should have not been shared in the first place.

Some of these apps did not respond to the issue. Whereas, the spokesperson of Flo said they are auditing all external tools on data privacy. He said that Facebook Analytics’ insights use it for internal purposes only. Once the audit is done, the external analytics program will have set limits and an update will be released which will not send custom app events to any external analytics system.

An official of New York Government, Andrew Cuomo, has asked government departments to investigate Facebook over the usage of customers’ private data. He was of the view that it’s a citizens’ right that heir information must be safe and any company violating the rules must be held accountable.

On the other side, as noted by MattNavara, even after reporting about Facebook’s invasion of privacy, The Walls Street Journal itself is using Facebook pixel feature. This feature allows Facebook to collect data of WSJ's audience to use for advertising purposes.
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