A number of iOS and Android apps have been caught collecting precise user location data and sharing them with third-party companies, according to a new report.
There are at least 75 companies that get “anonymous” location data from about 200 million smartphones in the U.S., according to an in-depth investigative report by The New York Times. Some of these firms collect specific location data as much as 14,000 times in a single day.
The Times tested about 20 iOS and Android apps, most of which had been flagged as potential privacy violators. Out of 20, the Times reporters found that 17 were sharing precise user data to about 70 third-party businesses in all.
As you might expect, much of this data is used for targeted advertising purposes, which isn’t inherently a bad thing. But precise location data does make those ads particularly creepy — in one example, firms pushed personal injury lawyer ads to people in hospitals.
The publication’s reporters were able to track people down to within a few yards of their actual location in their investigation.
Apple, for its part, requires that iOS app location data is anonymized. In other words, it is stripped of a user’s name or other personally identifiable markers.
But The Times reporters found that they were pretty easily able to guess a person’s identity based on their daily routines. That includes where users slept every night, which route they took to get to work and even the restaurants or bars that they frequented.
And, only three iOS apps and one Android app out of the 20 the NYT tested actually alerted users that their location data may be used for advertising.
Some of the apps are ones you may not have expected, either. The Weather Channel, for example, is owned by an IBM subsidiary. And The Times found that the firm collected location data via the weather app and analyzed it for hedge funds.
None of this may be surprising to the tech-savvy or privacy conscious among us. But it’s a good illustration of the tradeoffs you may be making for more accurate navigation and suggestions, as well as a good reminder to review your own Location Services settings.