Android apps continue to be a privacy nightmare, with 1 in 2 apps on the Google Play Store sharing user data with third parties.
Google has been under increasing pressure to improve Android apps’ privacy, primarily in response to Apple’s App Track Transparency. Google introduced its own “Data safety” feature in October 2021, requiring developers to use it as of late July 2022. Data safety lets people know how developers use the data they collect.
Now that developers are required to disclose their data practices, Incogni looked at 1,000 apps on the Play Store to see how data was being used. The findings were disturbing, with 55.2% sharing user data with third parties. Some of the big-name apps were the biggest perpetrators, despite claiming to collect the least amount of data.
Incogni also found a major disparity between free and paid apps, with free apps sharing seven times as much data as their paid counterparts. The same was true for popular apps, which shared 6.15 times more data than less popular ones.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, social media apps collected the most data or 19.18 data points. Shopping apps were the worst for data sharing, coming in at 5.72 data points.
Perhaps most concerning is the fact that 13.4% of apps share user location data, easily one of the most sensitive data points, with third parties.
Incogni also pointed out a major flaw in Google’s system, namely that it runs on the “honor system.” In other words, developers are trusted to be honest and transparent about what their apps are and are not collecting and sharing.
Incogni highlighted some of the biggest dangers related to their findings:
Many apps share and even sell your data to third parties such as marketing agencies, data brokers, and other businesses. Worse yet is that more than half of these apps might not be encrypting your data in transit, making the data highly susceptible to attackers if communications are intercepted.
Even transferring anonymous data – which is not considered “sharing” – can be ultimately harmful as it can be easily re-identified.
The risks involved in the proliferation of your personal information can be quite serious. Data sharing exposes users to dangers such as data breaches, identity theft, stalking, and online harassment. Many internet users can also find themselves victims of digital redlining, a phenomenon that is similar to profiling and discrimination in the real world.