General, Research, Technology

User Tracking Technologies: How and Why Companies Collect Personal Data

Do you think you are being watched? While you are thinking about the answer, we recall that virtually every of your actions on the Internet is passively monitored. An average web page shares data with dozens of developers. The same can be said of many mobile applications. Some of them even collect confidential information, including your location and data about calls made. Various businesses and even event organizers use Bluetooth and WiFi to monitor people nearby. Retailers have resorted to using face recognition technologies to identify customers and make them personal promotional offers. Moreover, representatives of private companies can share the information received with law enforcement agencies.

TikTok application developed in China, whose government is engaged in total surveillance of their own citizens


  • 1 Free cheese happens only in a mousetrap
  • 2 How to understand that data is being collected without warning?
  • 3 Illusion of control
  • 4 How to keep data confidential?

Free cheese only happens in a mousetrap

Today, many pay attention to news aboutleakage of personal data of users of social networks, banks and other online platforms. But what about mobile apps? Despite the fact that their requests do not always violate confidentiality, one way or another, their use is fraught with risk. The fact is that applications often require access to all kinds of information on mobile devices. If you want to post photos to Facebook, the app must access your photo library. If you need real-time traffic updates, the application will request access to your location. Speech-to-text programs request access to the microphone. But this does not mean that they use access to listen to your conversations (although the Facebook application did just that). However, some applications want to access other features of mobile devices that have nothing to do with the operation of the application itself. This applies to requests for access to the camera’s flash equipment and location data. The information received is then sold to ad networks.

Associate Professor, Department of Informatics in the North-EastDavid Choffnes believes that monetization is almost always the reason for collecting data. Developers are interested in the personal data of users, since selling data to other companies and advertisers is profitable. Therefore, even if the downloaded application is “free”, users often pay for it with confidential information. The security of personal data today worries many researchers. So, the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School believes that there is a whole ecosystem based on how to get as much information as possible from the phones of users. The good news is that applications should now request and receive your permission to access certain device features. They do not have default access. That's why when you first install the application, a small window pops up asking for access to the camera, location or address book. Users can also control the application’s access to personal information, allowing it to track your location only while using the application. The pop-up window also usually indicates the reasons why the application requests access. However, this does not stop some companies from violating the privacy policy.

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Unfortunately, today you should not rely on the integrity of developers and heads of corporations

So, thanks to criticism from Apple and Google,which in the past allowed data leaks, steps were taken to prevent unauthorized access to device functions and to better inform users about what information installed applications have access to. According to BuzzFeed News, some applications are requesting location access to provide users with better, personalized information. At the same time, without mentioning that they sell data or use it to target ads. Recently, New York Times reporters found that one of the popular applications sent user location data to 40 different companies, while users believed that their location was tracked only to obtain weather forecasts.

See also: 419 million records from the Facebook database found in the public domain

Although users should beaware of the collection of personal data by applications, the description of the “privacy policy” can be long, vague and difficult to understand. So, in the notes on the privacy policy of some applications, it may be said that your data can be transferred to affiliates, which in fact means that they will be transferred to advertisers and / or analytical agencies.

How to understand that data is being collected without warning?

Free applications usually downloadtrackers - after all, developers must somehow make money. At the same time, users should not rely on the fact that such applications will not collect their data.

Tracker - A mobile app analytics system with the ability to track the source of installations.

Faceapp assures users that it does not provide data to the government of the Russian Federation

Results of a studyemployees of the International Computer Science Institute, showed that paid versions of applications often have the same trackers as their free counterparts. Researchers believe that we are entering an era when you cannot be sure that if you pay for the application, it will not gain access to personal data. Games are often considered one of the most invasive applications, not to mention the fact that they are often designed or specifically designed for children who should be protected in accordance with privacy laws designed specifically for children. Experts advise you to carefully study the resolution of gaming applications before installation.

Before downloading applications thatrequest access to functions that have nothing to do with the service provided, scientists advise thinking twice. However, it will be even better if you decide to learn more directly about the developer. So, if you do not want the Chinese government to potentially have access to your data, you will be interested to know that TikTok belongs to a Chinese company. Representatives of TikTok claim that the company does not store user data in China and does not share this information with the government. Also, FaceApp application is based in Russia, however, its developers said that they do not store user data in the country. In turn, Vkontakte representatives assure the public that they do not provide personal data of users to law enforcement agencies, however, the number of criminal cases due to posts on this social network indicates the opposite. So it’s up to you to decide whether to trust such companies.

Do you pay attention to whichinformation do mobile applications request access? Share your opinion with the participants of our Telegram chat and at the same time find out what applications are used by readers of

Researchers also recommend periodically.Check your phone’s settings to see which applications have access to personal information. Recently, Apple and Android devices have begun to tell users what features of the application are requesting access to, whether it has been granted, and whether their decision can be changed.

The illusion of control

Among the specialists who studycollection of personal data, it is widely believed that requesting applications for access to personal data is just an illusion of control. Often applications find other ways to get the information they’re looking for, including location data. They can also use data that does not require permission, such as unique device identifiers that allow applications to collect data about how and when they are used. The resulting information then goes to advertisers, allowing them to improve their products and increase sales. But how else do they use personal data?

Surely you have often heard stories about hacks anduse of personal data. Recently, Facebook and Twitter announced that the personal data of hundreds of users were in the public domain. The reason was the requirement for some Android applications downloaded from the Google Play store to enter account information. The companies received a security report, according to which a software development kit called One Audience provides third-party developers with access to personal data such as email addresses, usernames and even the latest tweets. It is possible that someone could gain control of someone else’s Twitter account, but there is no evidence to date.

Gaming apps are some of the most aggressive when it comes to privacy.

It’s also difficult to call applications transparentFacebook and Snapchat, as a large number of users regularly complain about privacy violations. However, the saddest thing is that we can not do anything about it. It remains only to boycott the application if you do not like it or completely refuse to use some social networks. In this case, most likely, in the future the problem of confidentiality of personal data will become much more serious.

How to keep data confidential?

I think no one will argue with what peoplethere must be a right to know what information about them is collected and what they are doing with it. The situation in which private corporations process the personal data of users without their informed consent is simply unacceptable. Nevertheless, almost every day we see that companies are not going to regulate work with user data, as they are primarily driven by the desire to make a profit. Moreover, many companies go even further: when users give permission to use personal data, applications charge an additional fee or reduce the quality of service. Therefore, they should be held responsible for the misuse of confidential data.

Researchers believe that for protectionpersonal data must require the introduction of better privacy laws and their enforcement. Although the privacy policy is imperfect, downloading mobile applications without it can be simply dangerous. Of course, the best way to avoid third-party applications processing your data is to not download it at all. In the end, today everyone has to decide for themselves whether the installation of the application is worth what it takes.