Apps collecting personal details

Anyone who has read George Orwell’s classic dystopia 1984 knows what Big Brother means. Anyone else has probably heard the term – if nothing else in relation to the experimental tv-show bearing the same name. ‘Big Brother is watching you’ has become something of a catchphrase of our society – and it is becoming increasingly comprehensive, with everything from your food shop to your favourite game app asking for your details.

To clarify – we are being watched, through CCTV, data collection and pretty much everything we do involving technology; the pages we visit online, the apps we use or the queries we type into our browser. It all contributes to the internet’s mapping of you, your habits and your interests. Traditional CCTV was first implemented as a safety measure against crime. Today’s data-collecting has taken supervision to another new level. Much of this technology is helpful and useful; it’s designed to make search results more relevant and appropriate to your queries, but there is something slightly unsettling about it too.

You might have heard the urban myth about a young woman whose pregnancy became clear to her internet browser before it did to her? True or not, this is a very real scenario. By comparing her online behaviour – e.g. her browsing and her searches – to other women, she fit into that category. As a result she began seeing adverts related to babies and pregnancy before she herself had confirmed she was, indeed, expecting.

More and more websites and apps ask for personal details such as gender or age as well as your e-mail address. Whilst Google’s outspoken aim is to deliver more targeted content – there appears not to be such ‘clear’ aim for apps, they do it because everyone else do it too.

It is refreshing when a site or an app doesn’t require personal details to run. We appreciate the aim to deliver more tailored content – but the in-channels are becoming many in numbers and I find myself reluctant to leave my details in yet another place in return for a simple app or content.

I am not amongst the natural sceptics – but I do wonder why I need to leave my details everywhere. So for me, any app requiring that, is far less likely to get an install. Not only because of the extra hassle in the moment, which often is minimal, but because of the flood of spam to my account following the signup.

Of course there is the option of unsubscribe – but I, for one, would rather not be forced to subscribe in the first place. I would like the option to do so – I don’t want it to be a requirement for me to access the content or to use the app (unless its functionality relies on it). And we may ask ourselves – why and how is this app using my details? Fresh data presented by Computers Weekly (full article here) states that 85% of apps fail to explain how they are collecting, using and disclosing personal data. The survey was done by the Global Privacy Enforcement Network, and in the survey covers more than 1200 apps by 26 privacy regulators worldwide.

Apps are becoming an increasingly integrated part of society, and this survey is done as a step towards cross-border cooperation amongst privacy regulators. In the meantime we would suggest you keep your good sense with you and not give away details unless you are being informed why and how these are being used – following the advice of ICO and Andersen Cheng, the CEO of SRD Wireless.

Have you come across any dodgy apps, asking for more information than needed for it to run or the app failing to let you know why they need that information?