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When you ‘Ask app not to track,’ some iPhone apps keep snooping anyway

By Saraya Roberts

This post is about an article written by Geoffrey Fowler and Tatum Hunter on September 23rd, 2021, for The Washington Post:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/09/23/iphone-tracking/

Have you ever gotten a message asking you for your permission to share your data and information with an app on your phone?

According to an article that I found on The Washington Post, when you ask an app not to track your information, some apps on your iPhone still track it anyway. According to the article, the app starts to send “29 very specific data points about your iPhone” including your internet address, your iPhone storage, your current volume level, and even your battery level to an outside company. This information is unique enough to identify your iPhone. It gives your iPhone a fingerprint that is specific enough to to be remembered in a large database. This issue on data breaching relates to the concepts of security and business that we’ve been learning about in class.

Why do apps do this? Lots of apps want to track general information about your iPhone so that they can better advertise to you. 

But if you select “please do not track,” most people would agree that the app should not continue to track your information, regardless of whether or not it is considered harmless or good for the company.

Advertisers, if you choose not to share with them, are still allowed to access a lot of data such as your calendar type, iOS version, timezone, device’s name, display settings, chosen language, IP address, iPhone model, screen brightness, and even volume level.

Nobody knows why this information would be important. According to the article, none of the companies that take this information explain why they take it. They say it’s necessary in order for the game to function properly, or for advertisements to be accurate, or to ensure the best experience possible. They did not say why they need something as specific as your iPhone model, battery level, or display setting. 

In response to this, Apple says the fingerprinting of iPhones has been against its rules for a long time and that it would contact the apps that do this.

The problem lies, however, in how Apple defines tracking. They define it as “the process of connecting information collected about you on one company’s app or website with information collected by different companies — and only for the purposes of ad targeting, ad measurement or sale to data brokers. It excludes sharing data for other purposes, such as analytics and fighting fraud,” which creates loopholes for data companies to get a fingerprint of your phone. 

A lot of companies use Apple to hide behind, because they say that if they were doing something wrong then Apple would tell them to stop, and they don’t take any ownership over what they are doing. 

That is why I think that Apple should crack down a little bit more and redefine “tracking” in their policies to make sure that apps are following the rules of the app store, because they have a responsibility. They have a responsibility to protect your data if you specifically say that you do not want your data to be shared.

What do you think? Whose responsibility is it to protect our data? Is it Apple’s? The companies who created the app? Or is it our own responsibility to be more aware?

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