Mobile Phone Data Tracking Without Your Consent

How would you feel if apps on your mobile phone were secretly sending your private data to marketing firms – potentially thousands of times each week? Chances are that’s exactly what’s happening.

Without the knowledge or consent of mobile phone owners, many mobile apps have been secretly sending their personal details to third party companies. This data is collected day and night, pulling information from one app or several simultaneously.

The data is used to build up a comprehensive profile of the phone owner’s activities, habits and preferences, to target them more effectively with ads and offers.

Although this activity would appear at first glance to be unauthorized by the mobile phone owner, it often is - buried deep inside privacy policies that users must agree to before using the app. These policies can run to 500 pages (in the case of just one popular weather app), making it all but certain that users will not read them.

Google’s Android Advertising Identifier (AAID)- A Major Source of Tracking

Following similar accusations against Apple’s IDFA, European Digital Rights (EDRi) member noyb took further action against Google’s AAID (Android Advertising Identifier), according to the Financial Times. Google and all apps on the phone can follow and combine information about a user’s online and mobile behavior thanks to the somewhat disguised ID. Despite the fact that these trackers clearly require the users’ consent (as evidenced by “cookie banners”), Google ignores this legal obligation.

This identification number is created without the user’s consent or knowledge. It works similarly to a license plate in that it uniquely identifies a user’s phone and can be shared between businesses. Google and third parties (such as application providers and marketers) can utilize the AAID after it is created to follow users’ behavior, develop consumption preferences, and give tailored advertising. However, such stalking is strictly prohibited and regulated by the EU “Cookie Law” (Article 5(3) of the e-Privacy Directive) and requires the users’ informed and unambiguous consent.

To top it all off, Android user’s are denied the option of deleting this ID. Users can simply “reset” the ID, forcing them to generate a new tracking ID to replace the old one. This neither deletes the previously obtained data nor prevents future tracking.

How would I know if my data is collected?

It can be difficult for people to keep track of whether and how their data is being gathered. Android-based devices and iPhones both require apps to ask users to enable location services before collecting the information, but the explanations people see when prompted to give permission are often incomplete or misleading.

Moral of the story

Cell phones and other wireless electronic devices are vital communications tools that have become necessary for full participation in modern life. But they are also powerful tracking devices that can be used to infringe on individual privacy. This harvested data may later be compromised via data breaches in these companies, either by accident or via hackers who gain access to this data. Given this, mobile owners need to be vigilant in their choice of apps and data settings.

If you want to avoid collection of your location data altogether, your best bet is to evaluate the individual apps on your phone to see whether they are collecting more about you than you would like. Prevent all but your most important apps from gaining access to the data, and allow them to get it only when you are using the app.

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Avalon Siegel

Avalon Siegel

Project manager at Cubed Mobile, who knows everything about time management and tough deadlines

Avalon Siegel

Avalon Siegel

Project manager at Cubed Mobile, who knows everything about time management and tough deadlines

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