For the sake of convenience, we unsuspecting digital users have given a free hand to these apps. But now, its time to act smarter than your smart device.
- Our dependence on apps and digital devices has made us much more vulnerable to unsuspecting user data privacy breaches.
- Instagram collects 79 percent of personal data shared by their users on the app knowingly or unknowingly.
- Closely following are Facebook at 57 percent, LinkedIn at 50 percent, YouTube at 43 percent, eBay, at 36 percent, and Amazon, at 21 percent.
- Nevertheless, you can easily reduce this data tracking with slightly more attentive and smarter usage of your “smart device”.
Agree or disagree, we all have found advertisement behavior creepy, at least once in our digital life. Somehow, the website you are using to learn about a new tech trend shows you ads for the same products you looked at another website. We are also familiar with the times we found the ads of our choice of products while watching some random videos on YouTube. But how does this happen? Is someone spying on us? Or is it our favorite gadgets and applications that enable this breach of privacy?
Living in the 21st Century, we can barely imagine our life without smartphones. To make these gadgets more fun and useful, we use several applications that make day-to-day work easier. Moreover, these apps provide us specially curated options of entertainment with a simple touch of our fingers. There are applications to serve our every possible need — from shopping, entertainment, and food delivery to banking, medicine, and even books. Web developers brainstorm every day to bring something more innovative, attractive, and useful to users. With most of our daily needs being addressed with these applications, we are dependent on them now more than ever. But that’s also made us much more vulnerable to unsuspecting user data privacy breaches by these apps.
How does this “Specialized User Experience” happen?
Popular mobile applications like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and, Tiktok are used by millions of people every day. While being installed in our smartphones, these applications also get access to some of our important data, such as phone numbers and locations. Some of these applications also use web cookies, which play a crucial role in collecting important information from and about the user habits and desires.
Watch: How Targeted Advertising works
With their access to the user’s browser, these applications can easily read the browsing history, search history, contact details, and purchases. As we allow them access to our mic and camera, these apps often even track our regular conversations and activities, unknown to us. This only leads us to find the ads for our last search appearing on other websites a few minutes later. There have been instances where customers have also found ad suggestions appear on a website based on a conversation they might be having before using the application.
About the Top Invasive Applications
Mark Zuckerberg’s social media app Facebook has been on the news more than a few times because of allegations of user data privacy breaches. Facebook has been dominating the social media business globally for more than a decade now. Furthermore, it has enhanced its influence in user devices by acquiring two other popular online platforms in Instagram and WhatsApp.
Instagram, the popular American photo and video sharing application, has been subjected to most of the data-sharing complaints with third-party applications and advertisers. The shared data is later used to show customized ads to the users based on their browsing history, location, user content, and purchases. In a recent study on the most data-hungry apps, it has been shown that Instagram collects 79 percent of personal data shared by their users on the app, knowingly or unknowingly.
Unsurprisingly, Facebook follows closely behind Instagram with a data-sharing percentage of 57 percent. Facebook uses similar methods as Instagram to collect important data from the users. The popular business networking platform and job portal, LinkedIn, has also been reported with similar data collection percentage at 50 percent. Popular video sharing portal by Google, YouTube, with its music application YouTube Music, was also found to be collecting a whooping 43 percent personal information from their users to be shared with third-party companies. Popular shopping websites such as eBay, at 36 percent, and Jeff Bezos‘ Amazon, at 21 percent, are also part of this list.
Infamous Privacy Scandals by Major Social Media Apps
Data Privacy Scandal surrounding Facebook has been one of the prime concerns for social media users over the last few years. The most explosive scandal was created when a political consulting and strategic communication firm Cambridge Analytica gained access to the personal data of 87 million Facebook users. A few factors played important roles in this major security breach. The social media giant didn’t have adequate safeguards to protect the personal data of their users from third-party applications engaging in data harvesting. The information acquired by Cambridge Analytica based on OCEAN (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) Personality test used a combination of logistic regression and dimensionality regression. This was used to predict the sexuality, religious and political views, ethnicity, happiness, personality traits, intelligence, parental separation, use of addictive substances, and age.
Watch: Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica Data Privacy Scandal, Explained
Twitter also has been subjected to a security issue when a malicious virus was inserted into its application that compromised the data security of the users. The vulnerability created within the app allowed hackers to access information from non-public accounts from all over the world. The incident prompted creator CEO Jack Dorsey to come out with more stringent norms. Twitter took a firmer pledge towards protecting the personal data of the Twitterati.
SocialArks, a Chinese start-up faced a massive data breach resulting in exposure of about 400GB worth of personal data of 200 million users. The affected included high-profile celebrities and social media influencers. According to cyber-security experts, the Elasticsearch database of the company contained personally identifiable information of over 214 million social media users without any encryption. Due to the lack of password or encryption, anyone with information of the server IP address could access the database containing personal information from millions of users around the world. The database contained information from 150 million Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn users.
Watch: SocialArks data breach exposes 214 million users
Securing Your User Data from these Invasive Apps
Though it looks convenient with the customized ad suggestions, the creepiness of the situation is difficult to avoid. You can easily reduce this data tracking with slightly more attentive and smarter usage of your “smart device”:
Watch: How to Tame Data Hungry Apps
- Do not allow the applications access to your messaging app unless necessary. This might look convenient at times, especially with the OTPs. But this way you are also allowing apps to read other important messages (messages containing bank-related or other important information).
- Do not give the camera and mic access to apps when not required. For the apps where you need to allow them access to these features, turn it to only during app usage.
- Try not to accept cookies from websites you visit frequently. They do help you to find content and ads as per your interest. However, they also become the spies to track your online behavior – every view and every click.
- Try to clear your browser history as frequently as possible. You never know when a malicious software might get hold of your browser and be able to access your search and online history.
Your security is in your hands. Be prudent and skeptical about any permission that you provide to any app or platform in the digital space to collect your user data.