A technology columnist for The Washington Post discovered a disturbing fact: roughly 5,400 app trackers were gleaning information from his smartphone, including emails, phone numbers, and IP addresses and transferring the information to third parties.

Geoffrey A. Fowler wrote:

IPhone apps I discovered tracking me by passing information to third parties — just while I was asleep — include Microsoft OneDrive, Intuit’s Mint, Nike, Spotify, The Washington Post and IBM’s the Weather Channel. One app, the crime-alert service Citizen, shared personally identifiable information in violation of its published privacy policy … According to privacy firm Disconnect, which helped test my iPhone, those unwanted trackers would have spewed out 1.5 gigabytes of data over the span of a month. That’s half of an entire basic wireless service plan from AT&T.

As the Daily Mail adds, “They often take advantage of Apple’s ‘Background App Refresh’ feature, which allows apps to transmit data when they’re not actively being used, primarily for the purpose of making sure they’re up to date when you return to the app.”

Patrick Jackson, chief technology officer for privacy firm Disconnect, told the Post, “This is your data. Why should it even leave your phone? Why should it be collected by someone when you don’t know what they’re going to do with it? I know the value of data, and I don’t want mine in any hands where it doesn’t need to be.”

According to Fowler, the Yelp app on his phone was sending data to trackers every five minutes.

Apple told the Post, “At Apple we do a great deal to help users keep their data private.”

“Apple hardware and software are designed to provide advanced security and privacy at every level of the system.” Apple continued, “For the data and services that apps create on their own, our App Store Guidelines require developers to have clearly posted privacy policies and to ask users for permission to collect data before doing so. When we learn that apps have not followed our Guidelines in these areas, we either make apps change their practice or keep those apps from being on the store.”

MacRumors explained, “iOS users concerned about the data apps are sending, especially at night and without user knowledge, can turn off Background App Refresh in the Settings app and can use a VPN like Disconnect’s Privacy Pro to limit the data apps are able to send to third-party sources.” TheNextWeb added, “For now, it’s impossible to determine what trackers are used and for what purpose without downloading a third-party app like Disconnect’s Privacy Pro (iOS) or Exodus Privacy (Android). Another option is to turn off background app refresh on your iOS device by heading to: Settings > General > Background App Refresh > Off.”

IDropNews added, “To be fair, Apple has strong policies in its App Store Guidelines that require third-pay apps to have clearly posted policies and request permission before collecting data, and Apple is quick to respond when violations are discovered, but it’s a reactive process, rather than a proactive one, as it would be a herculean task for Apple to dig through all of the apps that are submitted to the App Store to look for and identify trackers, and how they are used, and how they line up with the developers’ privacy policies — especially when many of the developers themselves don’t even know.”

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