Mobile Apps Tracking Your Every Move

Popular mobile applications like The Weather Channel and GasBuddy may be tracking their users’ every move, according to a new report published Monday by New York Times.

If you have a mobile phone with GPS feature, it probably is an important part of your life, navigating through unfamiliar roads to your destinations as well as being primary medium to your communications with friends, loved ones and co-workers. But are you aware of how much of that information is shared with companies that want to track your every move, hoping to better target you with advertising over multiple websites?
The investigation carried out by the NY Times found that at least 75 partner companies get “anonymous” but very specific user location data via GPS from roughly about 200 million smartphones across the whole US. Some of these apps collect this data, including specific street addresses, as frequently as 14k times every day.

The information is often sold to advertisers, retailers or even hedge funds. One such insane violation of privacy took place when people went to the medical emergency room, was shown ads for personal injury lawyers.

Even though the data sold is without any link to the specific user, neither tied to a phone number or email address, The investigator was able to point out who the users were easily through their daily routines, and where they live, work or what retail stores they regularly visit.

Many companies said the data is legal — since users enabled location services — but explanations given to users when requesting to give permission was often incomplete or misleading, New York Times found.
For example, one app informed a user that by enabling their location via GPS will give them the latest weather update or traffic updates, but they did not mention that the data will be shared and sold to advertisers and businesses.

Like many other tech giants, these details are buried deep in the privacy policy. This type of user data is considered a high demand commodity with sales of location-targeted advertising. Companies that got hold of these data reached an estimated $21 billion Internet users this year alone.

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