Facebook in the dust. Of the browsing history and personal data Instagram collects on its users, the app shares 79% with external entities. That is concerning, especially given the fact that it is 22% more than the 57% shared by its affiliate company, and runner-up, Facebook. LinkedIn and Uber Eats tied for third at 50%. Trainline, YouTube, and YouTube Music tied at 43% with Deliveroo, Duolingo, and eBay making up the rest of the top ten at 36%.
This may seem a bit confusing by now. For example, if Instagram is using 86% of its user data for internal purposes, how can it also be directly sharing 79% with third parties? That’s well over 100%. The explanation is that the same user data can be used in both ways. Company A is paying Instagram to target John Smith with ads based on Smith’s user data, but Instagram is not sharing that user data with Company A. Company B is actually buying Smith’s user data from Instagram, so the same data is used twice. Given the number of Instagram and Facebook users out there and the ability of these companies to market their data in this manner, it is logical to conclude that a substantial amount of money is being made.
What apps protect their users’ data?
There are some app developers out there who actually value the privacy of their customers and collect and share no user data whatsoever. Others collect and share 2% or less. The pCloud research identified 20 apps that protect their users’ information. Most are familiar with Netflix, Microsoft Teams, Etsy, Skype, and Zoom. They are among the 14 listed that collect and share no user data at all. Signal and Telegram private messaging apps are also among the 14 at 0%. The remaining seven are the Clubhouse moderated discussion app, Google Classroom, Shazam music, and TV program identification app, the Boohoo fashion app, the Amtrak app, the Shop app, and IRS2Go.
Six apps made the top 20 list with data collection and sharing rates of 2%. They are BBC iPlayer, BIGO LIVE, Buzzfeed, Discord, Likke, and Shein.
Per pCLoud, a large majority of apps available from the Apple App Store are collecting data about their users and utilizing the information to target them with ads. These same apps are available from other providers, including Google Play, so this is not an issue that only affects Apple device users. Even if the app developers are not directly sharing user data with third parties, many are being paid by external entities to target users based on that data.
According to pCloud, more than half of apps do directly share user data with third parties who then utilize it to build profiles on these individuals for marketing and other purposes.
While pCloud’s research does provide valuable information regarding several popular apps, the best way app users can protect their data is to read the terms and conditions (T&C) carefully before installing a new app. These T&C disclosures can be lengthy, but taking the time to review them may save you some grief in the long run. They should specify whether the app collects user data, and, if so, how it is used and whether it is shared with third parties. It is also a very good idea to uninstall any apps that you are not using, as they may be collecting and sharing data via their ability to access other applications including location services, texting, cameras, and contacts.