Since the Cambridge Analytica data-mining scandal in 2018, big tech firms have begun facing increasing scrutiny of how they collect and use private user data.
Apple began blocking third-party tracking cookies on their Safari web browser in 2021, and Google in scheduled to do the same on their Chrome browser next year. Facebook has recently been forced to stop displaying targeted ads to minors in Europe, after the introduction of the EU Digital Services Act back in August.
However, many people still aren’t aware just how much private data tech companies collect, especially through the permissions we grant when installing apps on our phones.
Green Smartphones, an Ofcom-accredited smartphone comparison site, has discovered which apps have the access to the most personal data.
They analysed which types of data each of the 50 most popular free apps collect, according to Google Play Store developer security disclosures.
They then counted the total number of different types of data that each app accesses.
These were the results.
How to protect your privacy
Green Smartphones also offered the following advice to keep your privacy and personal data safe online.
1. Uninstall any apps you don’t use
Go through your installed apps, and remove any that you don’t use on a regular basis, especially social media or shopping apps, or any free apps from small, untrustworthy developers.
Remember, apps can continue to track you even when you’re not using them. In general, the fewer apps you have installed, the safer your private data is.
2. Review app permissions
On most modern smartphones, you can check which types of private data each installed app is accessing, and revoke permissions if desired.
To do this:
- On iOS, go to Settings > Privacy & Security.
- On Android, go to Settings > Privacy > Permission Manager.
Here, you will be able to see a list of different types of personal information, and which apps have access to this data. This will allow you to restrict data sharing so that each app only has the information it needs to function. For example, you might like to make it so that only navigation and ridesharing apps have access to your location.
3. Turn off location services
If you are wary of apps tracking your location history, you can also turn off location services entirely, and then turn it on again as needed, such as when travelling.
To disable location services:
- On iOS, go to Settings > Privacy & Security > Location Services.
- On Android, go to Settings > Privacy > Location, or swipe down from the top of the screen to open the system tray, and then tap the “Location” icon.
4. Take advantage of your right to be forgotten
Under GDPR legislation in the EU and UK, you have the right to request that companies erase your private information. This is known as the right to be forgotten.
Although the right to be forgotten is not enshrined in legislation in other countries like the US, many tech companies now allow people from anywhere in the world to request that their personal data be erased.
This can be helpful in cases where you have been using an app for an extended period, without being fully aware of the amount of data it is collecting, and you’re not comfortable with someone else storing this information.
To take advantage of the right to be forgotten, you will have to contact the developer of the app you have been using and ask that your personal data be deleted.
5. Carefully review data access rights when installing new apps
When installing a new app on the App Store or Google Play Store, you will be able to see which types of personal data it can access.
Ensure to carefully review what data an app can access, before installing it.
On modern smartphones, it’s possible to revoke access to certain types of data on a per-app basis. Therefore, if there is an app you particularly want to install, but it accesses a significant amount of personal data, you might be able to revoke its access permissions once installed in your privacy settings to get around this problem.