Over the last couple of weeks there was a lot of anger about the Facebook privacy blunders. On Twitter there was the #DeleteFacebook hashtag and there where other initiatives in various countries. But getting away from Facebook is easier said than done. One of the reasons is the Facebook built tracking software which is used by a lot of apps.
Facebook has a tool for developers called Facebook Audience Network which is included in a lot of apps. It has two parts. First it has an advertising network for developers to make money with their apps. Second it has an analytics tool used to track user behavior and demographics. These tools always work, whether you have a Facebook account or not!
A recent study (see link at the bottom) looked at nearly 2600 popular apps in the Google Play store. Nearly half of these apps use the Facebook Audience Network. That by itself is not a problem but they do not ask users for permission to gather information about them. The information gathered can be a lot of things. From a harmless what phone you are using to things like what you are doing.
Some examples of what is shared:
- Your mobile carrier name
- The language code and the timezone of your phone
- Information about your phone of tablet like screen resolution, brand, model, which os your using
- Google Advertising ID
- The IP address your phone uses
This list can continue because the app developer might include other information to share. Facebook uses its graph interface to gather the data so a litte trick to prevent data collection by Facebook is to block graph.facebook.com in your phones content blocker.
This article is focussed on the Facebook information gathering because it is a subject that keeps us busy at the moment. But Facebook is by far not the only company that gathers information from app users. There are a lot of companies out there that collect data from app users.
Being a app developer myself it is not possible to totally exclude these companies. For example in my game BubbleShooter I use a leader board. If people want to use that feature they need to sign in to Google. If they don’t sign in, the game is the same but you can’t compete with others. So the user has a choice here.
Another feature most app developer (including myself) use, is advertising in the free version of an app. Advertising always uses information gathering of some sort. It doesn’t matter which company you use (Google, Microsoft, Facebook or others). In most apps the only way to prevent this is to buy the full version which removes the ad network from the app.
In my experience most of the user keep playing the free version, which is fine but comes with advertising.
Is it bad that companies collect information? Thats for everyone to decide for themselves. In my opinion whether it is a bad thing depends on the app and the data collected. If a banking app or a medical app send data to the big data collecting companies it would be bad because of the nature of the data. If a game collects data like my ip addresses or type of phone I would consider that less harmful.