On by default: Your apps share more than you think

On by default: Your apps share more than you think

Recently, a security researcher did something very creepy but insightful – he tracked down a former White House official by digging through AllTrails app data. The researcher was able to track visits to the White House, locate a user’s home, and even track official activity in Washington, D.C., through publicly shared data from a tour app.

This was not because the user in question was a government official or notable in any way. This happened because the app was set up to share user data activity with the public default. It’s also not the first time this has happened – the military had to review the use of these types of apps after Strava was caught doing the exact same thing. A lot of apps do this. Even Tim Horton’s.

I can’t read minds, but I’m sure the current political climate means no public official wants to share their whereabouts with everyone, let alone visits to Pentagon or NSA offices. This was just a case of another consumer having no idea that an app was doing a lot more than they thought it was because Apple or Google let them.

The Strava app on the Galaxy S22 Plus and Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, both on top of a pair of running shoes

(Image credit: Michael Hicks/Android Central)

The rise of mobile technology has revolutionized our relationships with the world. Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have become an essential part of our lives, allowing us to communicate, work and play on the go. However, with the proliferation of mobile applications, data protection and privacy concerns have become more prominent. Many mobile apps require access to our personal information, including our location, relationships, and online behavior, raising questions about the potential misuse of that information.

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One of the main issues with mobile apps is the default privacy and location settings. Apple and Google have worked hard to prevent things like accessing contacts or location data without the user’s consent, but most apps are designed to collect user data by default, knowing that for almost anything Provides access. This practice is so common that many people have become accustomed to the idea that apps should be given access to their personal data without much thought.

Strava run tracking

(Image credit: Michael Hicks)

This raises serious privacy and data protection concerns. By allowing apps to access and then share our personal data, we effectively give up control over our own data. Because of this, there is a possibility that our data will be misused, either by the application developers themselves or by third parties who have access to the data. But it can be even worse (as seen above) if the app settings are turned on without asking.

To address these concerns, any setting that might share your data with anyone or any other service should be turned off by default, giving users the choice to enable it or not. This approach would give us control over our own data, so we can decide what information we want to share with app developers and the world, and what information we want to keep private.

Android 13 detailed media permissions

(Image credit: Google)

One of the most important advantages of this approach is that it would increase the transparency of data collection. If the settings are enabled instead of opting out, app developers are forced to provide more information about the extent of their data collection and how the data is used. This would help build more trust between app developers and users, as users can make informed decisions about whether or not to trust an app with their personal data.

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Another advantage is that it helps reduce the possibility of misuse of user data. By giving users more control over what happens after data is collected, app developers are less likely to engage in practices that appear intrusive or unethical. For example, app developers may be less likely to share user data with third parties if they know that users can respond by opting out of data collection or sharing. This would help ensure that you only use everything for lawful purposes and in a manner consistent with user expectations.

Amazon Sidewalk signup screen

(Image credit: Future)

The main benefit is of course for us. If we provide more control over our own data, we could protect our privacy more effectively. By allowing us to choose which data to share and which to keep private, we can more effectively manage our own online privacy data. Everyone should want this.

Some critics of this approach might argue that it would be too complicated for users to enable privacy and location settings. This argument does not stand up to scrutiny. Most users are already familiar with privacy and location settings and can enable them with minimal effort. We already enable some permission settings as part of an app’s onboarding process, so enabling other settings wouldn’t be any more complicated than it is now. Developers just have to ask.

Walking activity that shows steps and elapsed time since Garmin vívoactive Trend started

(Image credit: Michael Hicks/Android Central)

Some developers see no problem with this. We know some apps are already built this way, and you’ll need to quickly review the settings when you first start using them. Other developers won’t jump in and the settings will just be on, hoping you’ll never take the time to search because there’s money.

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