Smartphones and Privacy: Using Apps Safely (infographic)

Isn’t it great that you can download thousands of apps for free? Well, not so fast. Do you ever question why someone would develop an app, which costs money and takes time, just to give it away for free? There just aren’t that many magnanimous people in the world. When something is free, then you, the user, are the product.

Did you know the data you generate is worth hundreds of dollars per app? A Google user’s data is worth about $182 per person, while a Facebook user’s data is worth $158 per person. Multiply that by however many free apps, search tools, and email servers you are using for free and you may start to make the connection. All of this data is used to advertise to you in a targeted manner, among other things. By 2025, the market for in-app advertising will be $234 billion. And this is just the least harmful thing that is being done with your personal information.

Remember the Cambridge Analytica scandal a few years back? A free app on Facebook was able to gather personal information on 87 million people and use that information to target them for political ads. The kicker? Fewer than 300,000 people actually used the “This Is Your Digital Life” app, which means that the remainder of the 87 million people had their information taken through their connections with the people who actually used the app.

Free apps make money off your data. Everything you do on your smartphone generates data about where you are, what kind of device you are using, what you are doing, whether you are still or moving, and more. All of this information is invaluable for generating a profile of you, even though technically they aren’t supposed to be able to tell it is you generating the information. You don’t even have to have a social media account for your data to be used with astonishing accuracy - one study found that researchers could predict with 95% accuracy what a person would post on social media next even if that person had never had an account.

What’s more, law enforcement can use this data to determine who you are and can figure out from it where you live and work, which route you take to work every day, right down to which bank you pass that has a security camera pointed at you.

So how can you protect yourself from apps gathering massive amounts of data on you? First, turn off all your location settings and personalization settings. You will have to turn them back on to be able to use most of your apps, but at least that will cut the continuity of your file.

Second, don’t download unnecessary apps. In 2013 a free flashlight app was fined for collecting user data without informing the people who downloaded the app. Since most smartphones come with a flashlight app built in already, it doesn’t make sense to download an extra app on top of that - the app only exists to collect your personal information. Be more choosy about which apps you download.

Also look into a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, which can help prevent other users on the same network from accessing your data. It’s important to keep your passwords safe, so use a secure password manager. Scrutinize all the apps you use and get rid of any that you aren’t using. And always ask yourself when an app asks for permission to use other functions of your phone or OS, why would it need access to those functions? Learn more about apps and privacy from the infographic below.

Each day worldwide we generate 250 million terabytes of new data, but where does it all end up? This infographic outlines how apps may be tracking you and what you can do about it.

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