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These apps are stealing your most private data and it should be a crime

Some of the most popular apps in some of the most popular catagories are stealing your most personal, private data and handing it over to Facebook, Google, and other "analytics" companies.

Don't want to read? Watch the video version —Just hit play, above!

That's according to Sam Schechner and Mark Secada, writing for the Wall Street Journal:

Millions of smartphone users confess their most intimate secrets to apps, including when they want to work on their belly fat or the price of the house they checked out last weekend. Other apps know users' body weight, blood pressure, menstrual cycles or pregnancy status.Unbeknown to most people, in many cases that data is being shared with someone else: Facebook The social-media giant collects intensely personal information from many popular smartphone apps just seconds after users enter it, even if the user has no connection to Facebook, according to testing done by The Wall Street Journal. The apps often send the data without any prominent or specific disclosure, the testing showed.

Which apps are doing this?

In the Journal's testing, Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor, the most popular heart-rate app on Apple's iOS, made by California-based Azumio Inc., sent a user's heart rate to Facebook immediately after it was recorded.Flo Health Inc.'s Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker, which claims 25 million active users, told Facebook when a user was having her period or informed the app of an intention to get pregnant, the tests showed.Real-estate app Realtor.com, owned by Move Inc., a subsidiary of Wall Street Journal parent News Corp , sent the social network the location and price of listings that a user viewed, noting which ones were marked as favorites, the tests showed.

And just like with the last abuse, when Facebook was found to be using Apple's Enterprise Distribution system as an end-run around a banned iOS app, paying people, including teens, for quote-un-quote research but spying on them with root access well beyond any reasonable expectation, Google was almost immediately found to be running similar analytics. And others as well.

Security analyst Will Strafach, writing on Twitter:

Period Calendar (#32 in Health & Fitness, 35,000 ratings) communicates often with Google Analytics. what data it sends is a bit harder to judge precisely, because some of the content they send to appears to be obfuscated or in an odd format.My Calendar - Period Tracker (#174 in Health & Fitness) sends more granular information to Google Analytics, such as mood and intercourse entries (as specific as whether protected / unprotected)Dot Fertility Tracker sends Flurry Analytics information about what contraceptive methods are used, if recently pregnant, and other bits of info. this occurs even if the age is set to be under 18.no clue if this is just extreme carelessness on the developer's side or what. either way, pretty weird to have that sort of data stored with a third party, in my opinion.[The Wall Street Journal] highlighted Facebook's role, but tracking is really a wider issue, Facebook just plays a part in it.

Why are they doing this? Because the Facebooks and Googles are pressuring and bribing them to, so they can better fill out our profiles and shadow profiles, and better bundle us up for their data exploitations businesses. But it doesn't really **** matter why they're doing it. It's abhorrent and egregious enough simply that they're doing it.

What the companies are saying

"We require app developers to be clear with their users about the information they are sharing with us."

That's what a Facebook spokeswoman said in response to the article.

"When we hear of any developer violating these strict privacy terms and guidelines, we quickly investigate and, if necessary, take immediate action."

That's what Apple said.

What did Google, which runs both a data harvesting business like Facebook and one of the biggest software markets in the world, like Apple?

A Google spokesman declined to comment beyond pointing to the company's policy requiring apps that handle sensitive data to "disclose the type of parties to which any personal or sensitive user data is shared," and in some cases to do so prominently.

Apple has spoken more emphatically about data collection in the past.

Back in 2010, Steve Jobs, famously, harangued Flurry Analytics on the All Things Digital stage:

"One day we read in the paper that a company called Flurry Analytics has detected that we have some new iPhone and other tablet devices that we're using on our campus. We thought, what the hell?"

And, to cut it out, Apple added this to their App Store Developer Guidelines:

"The use of third party software in Your Application to collect and send Device Data to a third party for processing or analysis is expressly prohibited," said the added text.

Much more recently, earlier this year, Tim Cook wrote an impassioned open letter in Time magazine:

Meaningful, comprehensive federal privacy legislation should not only aim to put consumers in control of their data, it should also shine a light on actors trafficking in your data behind the scenes. Some state laws are looking to accomplish just that, but right now there is no federal standard protecting Americans from these practices. That's why we believe the Federal Trade Commission should establish a data-broker clearinghouse, requiring all data brokers to register, enabling consumers to track the transactions that have bundled and sold their data from place to place, and giving users the power to delete their data on demand, freely, easily and online, once and for all.

For now, though, Apple is sticking to policies. Facebook is sticking to deny, dissemble, deflect, and Google is… either apologizing when they get caught or hiding and hoping our attention span is too short for them to face any consequences.

What can we do?

Privacy lawyers say the collection of health data by nonhealth entities is legal in most U.S. states, provided there is sufficient disclosure in an app's and Facebook's terms of service. The Federal Trade Commission has taken an interest in cases in which data sharing deviates widely from what users might expect, particularly if any explanation was hard for users to find, said Woodrow Hartzog, a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University.Some privacy experts [in the European Union] who reviewed the Journal's findings said the practices may be in violation of that law. "For the sensitive data, companies basically always need consent—likely both the app developer and Facebook," said Frederik J. Zuiderveen Borgesius, a law professor at Radboud University in the Netherlands.

It's disappointing if not surprising this activity isn't expressly illegal everywhere. Data theft is still theft and this type of stuff happens so frequently, even with policies, even with fines, that the only way to stop it seems to be by making sure it's criminal. That if you fail to disclose what data you're taking and who you're sharing it with, you'll face charges. You'll go to jail.

That the penalty will be so severe that if a founder, CEO, or developer even dreams of violating it, they'll wake up screaming to delete the code.

And until that happens, the platform owners, Apple, and Microsoft, and yes, even and especially Google needs to hold every app and every developer accountable.

Require them to disclose, as part of the store page, what data is collected and who it is shared with. In a place that's as easy to see as the price, the compatibility, and parental guidance.

For example, this app collects the following data, including how often you have sex, and whether it's protected or not, and shares it with Facebook and Google.

Then do a deeper inspection to detect what, if any, information is being sent to the developer and any quote-unquote analytics they may be using, and if it doesn't match the disclosure, reject their ass… I mean apps, over and over again, or if willfully and intentionally deceptive, remove their apps and delete their accounts.

And if any developer is the least bit concerned that would have a chilling effect on downloads or a deleterious affect on their business, then they shouldn't be doing it.

There have been so many scandals, so frequently, that it's easy to become numb to them. To normalize them. But they're not normal. They're so far from normal.

I've quoted it before and I'll keep quoting it until something, everything changes.

We're at the point with privacy now that we were with security back in the virus-strewn days of Windows XP. We, the industry, made a change then. We, the industry, can make a change now.

We, everyone, just need the will and attention span to do it.

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Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

89 Comments
  • What an awful thing to see. Any credibility you had left has gone up in smoke the minute you decided to go with that profanity in your title.
    You should be ashamed.
  • The profanity in the title is censored, I don't see the problem?
  • its not censored on the main imore.com front page.
    but more importantly....what credibility?
  • Probably a mistake then, although technically there's nothing which states that profanity is prohibited in articles. Although it is censored in comments… 🤔
  • I couldn't disagree more. I get that you are offended by certain words. With due respect, I believe your values in this regard are misplaced.
  • You are free to disagree. I never said I was offended either. I swear when I feel like it, quite often sometimes. There is a time and a place. An article on a news site like this, by the editor is not one of them.
  • In your opinion. Every website is different, not every news site has to follow the same rules. I find it refreshing personally, it's nice to see a bit of natural emotion from the editor. Your comment does make it sound like you're offended, you could've simply stated that you disliked the profanity used, but instead you made it appear as that you couldn't bear the sight of it.
  • In your opinion.
  • Well exactly. Ultimately it's up to Rene what he writes, and up to the readers to either continue reading or go to another site
  • Not really. Putting it in a headline means you’ve read it.
    Nobody has a 6th sense to sense the word coming before they read it.
    It was a crass click baity thing to do. (IMO).
  • By continue reading, I mean whether you still want to read his articles (I wasn't very clear on that) after you felt so ashamed at what he did. A lot of the titles are clickbaity, it's nothing new, just that he decided to put some more character in this one.
  • I'm not even bothered by it as my views on Rene's fanboy biased click baity blogging has been long known. but If saying "##### it" on an article title adds character, the hood rats of harlem must be swimming in character. but I guess you'd say anything to defend Rene, as usual, even if has been at the cost of throwing your own character under the bus, right? see what i did there ;)
  • It adds character in my opinion, rather than boring old "stick-to-the-script" vocabulary. I don't say anything to defend him, just that I believe Emeroid's comment was somewhat exaggerated and there's no rule which states profanity can't be used in an article.
  • The "hood rats of harlem"??? Say what you really mean...
  • Don't worry DannyJJK will be here to defend Rene at all costs. Even if he looks like a dupe doing it. Rene should NEVER had put that in an article if he wanted to have ANY credibility with the public. Yes, The minions will bow to him at any juncture, but, the public who can think for themselves do not.
  • By your logic, if anyone uses profanity they lose credibility, which is completely farcical.
  • When you “claim to be” family friendly, yes, he does lose credibility. Defend and deflect.
  • It's one swear word, are you browsing iMore in church? It's still family-friendly, I'd be happy to let a kid read this article.
  • You don't have kids do you. You are just a kid yourself. so you think it's cool. I get it.., when you become a real adult with children you will think otherwise fanbaby.
  • I might do, I might not, it's wrong of you to assume. But what I can tell you, is that I'm around kids a lot, so I do understand. 1 swear word isn't going to corrupt a child, it's still family-friendly
  • Your answer tells me everything that I already knew. Yes you are around kids all the time in your school. That does not count.
  • In fact it doesn't tell you anything. The fact that you assume anything about my personal life, is far worse than the single use of profanity in this article.
  • This is a website that invites users of all ages for assistance in the usage of their Apple products. They've heavily promoted their "How To" articles and in many cases, iMore is a top result in many iOS related Google searches. This means people from all walks of life and ages can stumble across this website. Including children. I would agree that they should show some restraint in their usage of such language in their article titles for this reason alone. It's simply the professional thing to do.
  • Spanish TV can be viewed by anyone, but they never censor profanity. Professionalism differs between person and country. And swearing is like a really bizarre taboo, everyone uses it but everyone expects people not to use it…
    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Do you carry this same mentality in the workplace?
  • Again, depends on the workplace, it's pretty lax in ours, we only have a small office so people do swear sometimes (we get a lot of "**** sake" in our tech department when something goes wrong!)
  • Tech tepartment meaning shop class.
  • It means IT department, I've never heard of "shop class"
  • sure you haven't.
  • I live in the UK, never heard of the term "Shop class"
  • I guess you never went to high school? or do they pamper you over there?
  • In any case, I responded to Quis89, I do have that mentality in the workplace
  • I could say "with a name like Emeroid, you must abhor vulgarity" but that be another logical fallacy: an "appeal to hypocrisy," or perhaps an ad hominem attack, where I attack your character rather than the validity of what you are saying. While I might not enjoy reading profanity, I appreciate the he is angry about it (and with good reason, I might add!) I would suggest that René's credibility should be based on the accuracy of his assertions (which seem to be based on fact) and the reasonableness of his conclusions. I would also suggest that his credibility is not the issue here; the issue is whether privacy violation on a vast scale via iPhone apps is (or should be) legal and/or tolerated. I also wonder if this was simply a draft headline that slipped through unintentionally (consider the other typo), and also whether iMore might have a profanity filter that just didn't work for some reason on the home page.
  • @Emeroid I agree 100%.
  • These apps are sending our most private data to other companies and this is what you focus on? 🙄
  • It honestly really frustrates me. An article gets written and then we just get comments like "why did you use that word", or "please proof read". They're pretty much the same as spam comments as they've got nothing to do with the topic of the article (or you could say, **** all to do with the article 😅)
  • Here he comes to save Rene!!!! Never fear....underdanny is here!!!!!
  • Not here to save Rene, I'm just making a point about spam comments in general.
  • "I've got a column two write" "...would have a chilling effect on downloads or a deleterious affect on their business..." You also have a column "two" PROOFREAD.
  • Looks like a typo, but it could also be autocorrect. ;-(
  • Got a feeling it's either autocorrect or dictation software. Quite likely the latter.
  • Doesn’t matter what caused it. The point is, no one here ever proofreads anything. Just type it up and publish. It just makes “professional journalists” look completely amateurish. An obvious typo in the friggin headline? Come on. Have some dignity.
  • Well Rene, you want to know what really bugs ME? It's that iMore, once a respected site for useful Mac / iOS / Apple information has become the Home Shopping Network of the Internet. My iMore Feedly content consists almost exclusively of come-ons for one product or another. An ever-declining number of useful articles are making your website a joke among Mac sites. You, Rene, might as well put on fishnets and lean against a lamp post.
  • Unfortunately this is the case across the board for Mobile Nations sites, including Android Central, another one I used to frequent. 80% marketing/seo/affiliates, 20% good writing and news. It sucks because there are some good writers as well. I've given up fighting it and I simply don't come to these sites very often any more, and gladly use my adblocker when I do (despite their kitten image begging me to turn it off). I'll turn off my adblocker once the content goes back to what it should be.
  • RhymingDesigner, you've got a point - I just looked at the iMore home page and it's mostly "deals" rather than articles. I am OK with "deals" - I think it's an OK way to make money - but there really need to be more actual articles that aren't infomercials. If you want to change to an infomercial/shopping site, can I suggest "iDeals" or "iShop" as a better name?
  • I agree with everything you said, sir. I am ashamed that I have yet to delete my Gmail and Facebook ooks accounts; I'm very close to doing that. I really don't know which one is worse.
  • I'd say Facebook is worse. They barely have any quality control on their website or apps, which leads me to believe Facebook is more a data-mining site rather than actually trying to be a social network. At least Google does a great job with its search engine.
  • Imho, anyone using Spybook after they *admitted* to psychological experiments on it's users, shouldn't expect privacy. The issue as far as I can see is that people don't know that things shouldn't be this way. I recently told a family member I didn't know how Snapchat linked someone to me as I didn't give them my contacts. The family member said "Snapchat gets your contacts..." I said "I didn't say yes when it asked, so that's not it" and the family member didn't seem to understand that you could actually say no and continue to use the app. Can anyone explain why a period tracker needs to be linked to your Spybook account? Or was it just using a token in the background or something that Apple shouldn't allow without direct permission in the first place?
  • The Howard Beale of iMore. Manufactured rage in search of clicks. Lighten up Francis.
  • You assume it's manufactured, it could just be that he feels very strongly about this topic. Given Rene's other articles about privacy, it wouldn't surprise me if that was the case.
  • Here he comes to save RENE....in the underdog theme song....
  • People can think whatever they like, some apps are stealing private data
  • Underdanny, no one is questioning the gist of the article, they are complaining about the complete lack of journalistic professionalism they expect to see. Here he comes to save Rene!!!! Never fear, Underdanny is here!!!
  • Then complain to iMore's support team, or visit another site. The irony is that the people who complain the most, seem to visit this site the most as well. If they hate it so much, why do they keep coming back? 🙃
  • I don't hate it at all. I get lots of useful information from this site with regards to my iPhone and ipad. I am not into the constant silliness that rene puts up regarding apple and his undying LOVE for free products Oh, I mean, him purchasing everything apple. Then, the people like yourself underdanny, who are here to kiss his and apple's behind NO MATTER WHAT. that's what I dislike. It's ok to be critical danny. seriously. They will not take away your apple devices if you are critical. I still have all of mine. I use them every day. I am not getting rid of them. HOWEVER, if I do see something that is not up to scratch, so to speak, I will speak my mind. Being a professional Journalist, Rene should not need to use profanity to make a point. he comes off a petty, juvenile and uneducated on said subject. I read EVERYTHING he writes, and he has some good points. Sometimes however, he's unhinged with undying love for the fruit. I know they pay his way for everything...but still sometimes critique is necessary. Try looking at things with an open mind. try NOT to be a lemming all your life. Never know, you might learn something.
  • If you read my comments, I'm not just blindly defending him. I accept that his proofreading is terrible (or non-existant). I disagree with some of his points (e.g. I'm for the right to repair). I love Apple products, but I know when to be critical. I agree with some of Apple's controversial decisions, but not all of them. I like Rene's articles overall, so I can see past proofreading errors and one swear word, although profanity doesn't bother me as a reader at all. My mind is open, but I may be less critical just because I generally agree with more things than the majority
  • Lol! "FUD by Rene" should be the new title for Vector. RR is so out of control .. Lol!
  • Fear maybe, but not really uncertainty or doubt. These apps _are_ stealing data, it's not a possibility, it's a fact that they are.
  • The profanity doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the fact that he’s had the same typo in the title for days now (“column two write”), and hasn’t bothered correcting it. Does he even look at his own website? Or is he “two” busy searching the internet for people being mean to Apple?
  • Indeed. It has FINALLY been corrected, and the F bomb is gone. Perhaps Rene actually decided to at least read the headline. Other problems still exist in the text. As usual.
  • These apps steal our sensitive and personal data and send it to other companies and people focus on swearing in the article. I don’t usually agree with Rene on anything, but this is very important for all of us. Our privacy should be protected.
  • It honestly really frustrates me. An article gets written and then we just get comments like "why did you use that word", or "please proof read". They're pretty much the same as spam comments as they've got nothing to do with the topic of the article. Privacy is a really important topic, and it's becoming more relevant each day
  • HERE HE COMES TO SAVE RENE!!!!!!!!
  • Nope, just here to vent my frustration on comments which have nothing to do with the topic of the article. Can you imagine if when the next president of the US was elected, the first comment was "why does s/he have that hairstyle?"? That's the equivalent of some of the comments in articles on iMore.
  • Comparing the feedback that a biased, sayanthing-forclicks blogger gets to the standards that we look for in the president of the united state is just mind blowing.
  • It doesn't matter what I'm comparing it to, it's really not that hard to get:
    1. Author publishes article, expecting comments based on the topic
    2. User comments something completely unrelated to the topic at hand Whether it's a news article, Facebook post or whatever, just talk about whatever's being discussed in the article, rather than derailing the comment thread.
  • I have news flash for you. You're not the blog police, you don't get to tell anyone what part of an article they can or can't comment on. I have every right to comment on using profanity in a blog title. And Rene has now fully edited it out, validating the feedback the title was getting. Sorry that you don't like your master being criticized for his low quality output, whether its the content or how its titled
  • You're right, I can't stop people from trolling on articles, that's for iMore to moderate, but I will let you know that I'm reporting them. Rene could've removed the profanity for many reasons, you're just assuming that he did it because of the feedback. And he's not my master, I just think leaving unnecessary comments on an article is doing more to ruin this website than Rene's article quality. Nothing more annoying than seeing comments on an article, and they just say "WHY DID YOU SWEAR? OH MY GOD THINK OF THE CHILDREN!"
  • This is the problem with you. You're such blindfolded soldier for Rene that everything must be others fault. Just like trump and his loyal minions.. Every criticism must be fake news or a conspiracy to take down the person . If this website gets ruined its not because a few people criticized use of profanity in a blog title, it's because the content is low quality and biased. Putting aside all that, Every article is riddled with typos these days.. The quality is just not there and we're pointing it out and loyal servants such as yourself label it as trolling which is really not surprising.
  • The problem is that you're directing your criticism to the wrong place. If you believe there's a problem with the article quality, contact iMore, or Rene directly. What you're doing by leaving one of these comments, is the equivalent of shouting at a customer service representative so that everyone else around you can hear you whilst directing it at the wrong person to begin with. If I'm walking into a shop I don't expect to hear someone shouting at the top of their voice to customer service, the same way I don't really just want to see a list of complaints as comments instead of the complaints being directed in the right place. Comments are for discussion of the topic, not complaints. Plus there's no guarantee or obligation on Rene's/iMore's side to read comments unless you report them.
  • You're telling me the "comment" section of the article isn't the place to "comment" about the quality of the said article????? how high on the koolaid are you, kid? If I enter a shop that served me crap, you better believe ill voice my distaste right then and there. I don't give 2 schits about a coward like you sitting in the corner of that shop eating the same crap but keeping quiet cuz you worship the owner. And obv your master read the comments as he has now edited the title...if you were right about how unimportant the title was, it would have remained as original. common sense=1 soldier of koolaid=0.
  • You "obv" have no respect for anyone in your vicinity. If a shop served you crap, you politely ask to speak to the manager, or put in a complaint. The comment section is the place to comment on the topic of the article, not the quality of it. If you believe the quality of the articles isn't up to standard, then contact iMore or Rene, rather than ruining the experience of other people wanting to discuss the topic. The bigger point here is really that I'm trying to help you, because your complaints may not be listened to if they're in the comments section. You're more likely to see changes if you make your complaints to the right area.
  • Sorry to break it to you, but I don't need your help. My complaints were already listened to. The title has been edited. Your master gave in. Guess the force of the koolaid wasn't strong enough with this one. I know you get these overwhelming OCD urges that you need to have the last say on every post, but it's time to move on. You can do it, it's gonna be alright,I promise master won't punish you for failing.
  • I can't really have a serious discussion with you, because your comment is just "koolaid, master" and various other degrading insults. OCD can be a very serious mental illness, so it's pretty vulgar for you to use that as a joke. You've clearly demonstrated what kind of person you are, you would barge into a shop and shout no matter who else is affected, you have no consideration for who is around you, and you use vulgar insults when you disagree with someone
  • He's on the same plane of vision in Underdanny's eye XperImenT.
  • You clearly ignored my comment above. Whether you like the comparison or not, it's the principle of commenting about the topic rather than derailing it
  • He made the topic all about himself with another one of his trademark hysterically hyperbolic headlines. The topic became even more about him when he left a glaringly obvious typo in the headline of the article for FOUR DAYS (not to mention all of the other errors that litter this article, as they tend to do with anything he writes). So you’ll have to forgive us for not taking the article seriously, when clearly the writer himself isn’t taking it seriously to begin with.
  • Then why not comment about the topic at hand, and just add your criticisms to the end of your comment? I can still take the article seriously even though he should focus more on proof-reading. Many authors write hyperbolic headlines, it's how they get people to start reading the articles and visiting the website.
  • Yep. Underdanny in his tightly whities is flying through the imore skies, looking for evil doers who rag on Rene and Apple. He swoops in to save them from the evil wrongdoers. And promote anything Apple and Rene to no end. Even if the evil wrongdoers are right. No matter, underdanny will save Rene!!!
  • I would say your comments are spam, but that was entertaining to read
  • Glad you like it! Even though I do not agree with your views, I am sure you a a cool person. I just like making people laugh while getting my point across. But dude, you should really open your mind.
  • I would take this article much more seriously if it did not appear to be written by an illiterate teenager.
  • If Rene's writing is hyperbolic, then this comment is off the charts. Uncorrected typos doesn't mean you're reading something that looks like it's by an illiterate teenager
  • Hey Underdanny, Here is some "UNBIASED" reading for you. Yes, it's from MS power user, however, it is showing that NO company cares about your data. NOT even your angelical apple. The funny thing is, there is one company not mentioned. See if you can open your mind for a change.. https://mspoweruser.com/no-place-is-safe-microsoft-apple-facebook-twitte...
  • If they keep breaking GDPR rules it's going to hurt them in the long run. But yes, I'm aware that most companies, including Apple, are collecting data that they shouldn't be. Apple appears to be doing it better than the rest, but ultimately they're still not doing enough.
  • That's like saying one thief is better than another because they are doing it right. COME ON MAN. Seriously. One murderer is better than another murderer because they did it "better than the rest". Love the apple reality distortion field!
  • Apple aren't murderers, they're invading certain elements of user privacy. The fact that most companies are doing it means the answer isn't as simple as you think, so yes, Apple are doing better than the rest.
  • Wow. How funny. As soon as somone….namely me, puts up evidence of apple doing the same thing as rene is complaining and ranting about in this article, it magically drops from the main page. What a shocker!
  • CRICKETS!!!!!!! CHIRP CHIRP CHIRP!!!!!!