WSJ Investigates What Your iPhone Apps Are Doing Behind Your Back

The Wall Street Journal has a fantastic article about the whole issue around app privacy, in particular what iPhone and Android apps are doing with your information.

With 300,000+ apps in the App Store, what information is collected and distributed about us when we use various iPhone apps? The WSJ’s investigation resulted in the following conclusion:

An examination of 101 popular smartphone “apps”—games and other software applications for iPhone and Android phones—showed that 56 transmitted the phone’s unique device ID to other companies without users’ awareness or consent. Forty-seven apps transmitted the phone’s location in some way. Five sent age, gender and other personal details to outsiders.

Here are examples of how much information is being shared by the apps TextPlus 4, Pandora, and Paper Toss:

Apps sharing the most information included TextPlus 4, a popular iPhone app for text messaging. It sent the phone’s unique ID number to eight ad companies and the phone’s zip code, along with the user’s age and gender, to two of them.

Both the Android and iPhone versions of Pandora, a popular music app, sent age, gender, location and phone identifiers to various ad networks. iPhone and Android versions of a game called Paper Toss—players try to throw paper wads into a trash can—each sent the phone’s ID number to at least five ad companies. Grindr, an iPhone app for meeting gay men, sent gender, location and phone ID to three ad companies.

Very interesting. How can we control the information on our phones and prevent them from being distributed to third parties? Isn’t Apple’s walled garden supposed to protect us from prying eyes?

The app Pumpkin Maker actually transmits your GPS coordinates to an ad network–without even asking or notifying you. The biggest recipient of your data? Google, via their AdMob network, which is widely used within free ad-supported apps.

What do you think? How can consumers protect their privacy when it comes to downloading apps? Is downloading a free app worth giving up some information?

Thanks to @photogreekvm for sending this in!