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The Smartphone App That Could Be Leaving You In the Dark When It Comes to the Information it Collects

(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

There's a little known cost for that "free" handy flashlight app on your smartphone.

Adi Kamdar, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said more apps are asking for location data and calendars, among other private data. And that's perhaps because “they may not be making a whole lot of money from app downloads or ad clicks," WIRED reported.

"[S]o they may have this perspective that we need to collect as much customer data as possible as an insurance policy,” Kamdar said.

(Photo credit: Shutterstock) (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Just last year, the Federal Trade Commission settled a case with Goldenshores, Technologies, LLC. That's the company behind the "Brightest Flashlight Free" app, which has been downloaded tens of millions of times by users. The FTC alleged the company's privacy policy told users their information would only be used by the that company while it was also being sent to third parties, such as advertising networks.

“When consumers are given a real, informed choice, they can decide for themselves whether the benefit of a service is worth the information they must share to use it,” Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said.

“But this flashlight app left them in the dark about how their information was going to be used,” she added.

Mobile apps are able to track users using unique identifiers such as the UDID, or "Unique Device Identifier" (similar to your phone's serial number). Apps can also track users by tapping into their IMEI, or "International Mobile Station Equipment Identity," which is the unique number mobile networks use to identify them, WIRED reported.

If you don't know which apps might be using your information, there's an easy way to find out if you're an iPhone user. Go to "Settings" and then "Privacy" to see which apps are using which data. From there, you can also toggle the on and off options for each.

The Android equivalent, called "App Ops" was pulled by Google last year when the company released its KitKat update. Google said the "experimental" feature could break the functionality of apps, CNET reported.

After Google released the update in which App Ops had been removed, the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted  that "users will need to chose between either privacy or security on the Android devices, but not both."


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