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You don't have to let it linger

The first in a series about setting boundaries with your tech

Last week, Arizona sued Google for tracking its users’ movements even when users opted out. Apparently, enough good evidence was gathered that Google’s Android mobile operating system was violating its own promises to its users to warrant a suit. Apps have long been known to violate their own terms of service (TOS) and tech companies their own promises: North Dakota’s official COVID contact tracing app was found to share data with Google and Foursquare, in violation of its TOS. Previously, Facebook was found to be gathering quite a bit more data with its app than users had agreed to. Deep in any Apple product’s agreement is a blanket permission, which extends permissions to all other Apple apps. More on what Apple and Facebook gather on you.

We can’t expect Google and Apple to police their app platforms. In 2018, an estimated 194 billion apps were downloaded between the two platforms. That scale is fine, I guess, for making these companies money, but they’re slow to address the problems it creates for users; in 2018, an estimated 1 in 5 apps on Google Play marketplace are malware and only 24% of top apps have a privacy policy; Google has since launched security measures for its market and Apple now requires all apps to have a policy.

That the two companies running these platforms don’t adhere to their own terms of service doesn’t create confidence that they’re policing the behavior of others. And who could blame them? Consumer data is a $50+ billion industry, a number set to double by 2027. That is quite a cookie jar, and the big tech companies cannot keep their hands out of it. More than 70% of smartphone apps are reporting personal data to third-party tracking companies like Google Analytics and the Facebook Graph API. Google paid Apple $12 billion in 2019 to route Safari traffic, the operating system’s baked-in browser, through Google.

These three steps will help you set some limits on the money those big companies make on your unpaid labor.

1. Don’t let any apps linger. If you don’t use it or don’t need it, delete it. As phone size defaults swell to 128GB or 256GB - what would comprise boxes full floppy disks! - it's tempting to fill that space with apps you use once to park your car, listen to a podcast, or check out some real estate (just me?) and then forget or leave just in case. Clean house regularly! When deleting, ask yourself: am I ok with this app or company gathering data on where I drive to, where I live, what I like, what I shop for? If the answer is yes, cool. If no, or I don’t know, delete.

2. Delete the Facebook app. I know this is a pain, but that app and any related apps - Facebook Messenger, Instagram - are sucking up all your data (despite Facebook’s claims otherwise, the Messenger app in the iOS environment has long been known to gather data it didn’t clearly request.) Ever wonder why you just *think* of something you want to shop for and it’s already being advertised on your feed? Facebook has built what it brags are 5000-point user profiles on each of us, even if we aren’t Facebook users. That must make predicting what we’d like much easier.

Not convinced? Try this trick: Check to see how much battery these apps are drawing on your phones. We train survivors of domestic violence to recognize battery drain as the biggest tell that a tracking app has been placed on their phones. That’s what this app is essentially. Find it on an iPhone or Android.

It’s because the app is sucking up all the data from other apps and activities on your phone. Use the mobile site instead. Open it in a tab in a browser, or add the mobile site to your home page. Download and use the app or Messenger when you have to, but delete after using. Or remove and reinstall the app periodically, if you must.

3. Stop using the built in browser. Like we said, Apple's got Google wrapped around its finger to the tune of $12 billion for Apple’s user data. Apple fools (like me!) are therefore enriching both behemoths in the process. So, we suggest use another browser, like Privacy Duck or Firefox Focus because they block trackers and keep little or no data. (If you use browser tabs like bookmarks, we suggest using Pocket or a similar app to read things later.) Next time we'll talk about boundaries when working from home.

Stay safe and healthy.


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