This article is part of Technology news. You can register here to receive it weekdays.
Thorin Klosowski delved into new revelations from iPhone apps that tell us what information they collect about us and for what purpose.
He appears both confused and concerned about our digital economy, the economy of dependence on applications that is messing with what’s going on with our personal information.
Thorin, the editor of the New York Times product review website Wirecutter, spoke to me about his research on app tracking revelations of 250 iPhone apps, why should anyone is interested in application tracking and tips for people to protect their information.
Why should people bother with digital data collection? If a weather app knows every single time I go to McDonald’s and in return I get a local weather forecast, isn’t that a fair trade?
For many, yes. But it’s not a real informational transaction.
Let’s say you see in the description in the iPhone app store that a weather app always records your location and records all the apps for which you entered the same email address. You have no way of knowing what the app maker needs that data for, or if that information is being sold or shared with other companies.
What could happen?
Face recognition startup Clearview AI is an example of what happens when information we give out in the world for one purpose is collected and used for another – in that case , brings together an online photo database of millions of people – without the participants actually agreeing.
We have very little control over what happens to our personal information. Even just trying to understand what happened to our data can be tiring. I’ve been writing about digital privacy for many years, and I still find it incredibly complicated.
The bottom line are these Apple app privacy disclosure, modeled after the food nutrition label, is better than nothing but still not very useful?
That’s it. These labels lack context. You can’t compare apps very easily, so it’s hard to know what is the normal performance of an app in any of the categories, and what is overactive.
And after spending more time than I expected to learn this, I don’t believe the information about this app tracking is helpful. I’m glad Apple’s privacy labels still exist, but this is just the first step for the public to understand how the entire data collection economy is fundamentally disrupted.
Look for something positive! Are there any apps you viewed that collect relatively little data?
The Signal messaging app is one and a note-taking app called Bear. And almost all of the games under Apple Arcade, the company’s $ 4.99 monthly video game subscription service, appear to have only minimal data collection.
What is your advice for people worried about their personal data being collected?
Apps on your phone that you don’t use often cause you to collect more data. My top recommendations are to remove any apps you don’t use, and don’t download them if you only use them once or occasionally. Using the website version of a service instead of an app is often a better alternative as crawling tends to be less aggressive.
If you had absolute power, what would you change to better protect our personal data?
I think I will remove personalized ads based on what we do, where we go, or our interests. Digital advertising based on our personal information is at the root of the volatile problems in our online economy.
Read more: Android says it plans to closely follow Apple’s lead in asking for crawl information in its app store. Android data tracking labels will start next year.
Tips of the week
How to block digital tracking
Not only are personalized ads on the app, they can also track you across the web. This is Brian X. Chen, The Times’s consumer technology columnist, on ways to prevent digital companies from collecting our personal information:
The targeted ad is terrifying. If you’re shopping through the window in real life and looking at an expensive pair of shoes, would you like a flyer to be permanently glued to your car? That’s basically how personalized online advertising works. I call them stalk advertising.
A few years ago, I wrote a column about beating ad stalkers by force. Most of that advice is still relevant today. The bottom line is that you need a variety of techniques to block ads on the web and within mobile apps. Here are some steps:
Ad blocker installation. For your web browser, you can install ad-blocking add-ons. My favorite app for the desktop browser is uBlock Origin and on the iPhone I recommend 1Blocker.
For Android users, Google has banned many ad blockers from its official Play app store. The easiest way to block ads is to use a private web browser, as I detail next.
On mobile devices, use a private browser. Firefox Focus, DuckDuckGo, and Brave are privacy-focused mobile browsers that include ad blocking and built-in trackers. These are handy when you want to do a discreet web search. I have written more about these web browsers here.
Tracker blocker installation. They detect computer code on websites snooping on people and prevent trackers from loading. My favorite tracker blocker for desktop systems is Disconnect.me and for mobile I like Barracuda CloudGen Access (free on both iOS and Android). Here’s a lot more information about Apple’s new settings that allow iPhone owners to ask apps not to track them.
Before we go …
A fearsome computer attack on the fuel pipeline: Cybercriminals have been forced to temporarily shut down the pipeline for nearly half of the East Coast’s supply of gasoline and jet fuel. My colleagues looked at what this could do to fuel prices and whether such critical infrastructure is better protected under a draft White House proposal to mandate Digital security standards for federal agencies and contractors or not.
From the previous month: Nicole Perlroth explains why infrastructure is like pipes is very susceptible to ransomware, this type of network attack has affected this fuel pipeline.
Dispute on campus about administering the virtual exam: Some Dartmouth medical students accused of cheating on online exams say administrators have relied on erroneous data from subject assignment software that tracks student activity during magnetic exams. far away they don’t even know it. My colleagues Natasha Singer and Aaron Krolik examined the campus tension at Dartmouth and asked: Is the technology used to catch fraudsters accurate, fair and transparent?
Back to class is not that simple: Some kids and parents don’t want to go back to school directly because they’ve rearranged their lives over the past year in ways they don’t want to undo, my colleague Dana Goldstein said. It’s a nuanced analysis of what experts call “school hesitation” and what officials are doing to persuade families to return.
We should love wasps! They control pests, pollinate crops and do other important tasks to benefit the ecosystem, human health and the economy. Additionally, “they can strip a bird completely within hours,” one behavioral ecologist told CNN.