If you’ve noticed that you tend to see advertisements for something you saw on one app a few minutes before on another, it’s not a coincidence. This is app tracking and until recently we couldn’t really do much about it. We never really know which apps had our information or what was being shared. If you’re wondering which apps on your smartphone are using app tracking, the simple answer is all of them. While consumers wait to control their data with Ctrl.ly, there are a few things you can do.
Your smartphone, whether it be an Android or Apple device, has a unique ID or MAID (Mobile Advertising ID). This is known as an identifier for advertisers. This ID makes it easy for apps, websites, and other third parties to track your unique device ID across the internet. Yeah, it can seem like an invasion of privacy on some levels, but this is the reason why you tend to see advertisements geared towards your interests and search history (which increases the likelihood that you will engage) instead of something random. If you’re an avid skier, you probably won’t interact much with ads about sewing. Seeing ads and content geared to winter sports personalizes your online experience to you. Plus, ads pay for most of the free services we use today.
What information can third parties retrieve and use from my unique ID?
If you have an iPhone, Apple automatically assigns your ID, calling it an Apple ID for Advertisers (IDAD). For Android devices, it’s called the GPS ADID (Google Play Services ID for Android). Most of the common apps you use every day are using your unique ID to track your movement – unless you opt-out of it, of course, and we’ll get to that later.
Data that is collected from third-party apps can include such things as your age and gender, your location and information about other apps you have on your phone. By collecting your information from the apps you choose to have, they can gain insight into your interests and what products or services may intrigue you the most. Then, they provide you with these personalized advertisements that you’re more likely to interact with. Basically, they use your information to improve businesses ROAS (return on ad spend) but it can also can be beneficial to you as well by showing you advertisements that are suited to you personally.
Turning off app tracking on an Apple iPhone
Recently, Apple updated its iOS version and made it more transparent. Every time you open a new app you’ll be asked to either approve or not approve its ability to track you across other apps. Some apps allow you to choose to be tracked always, never, or only when you have the app open on your phone (which for some of us is all the time). In your haste to use the new app, you might accidentally click ‘yes’ when you didn’t really want to approve app tracking. You’re not stuck with being tracked though since you can still turn off your Apple app tracking.
Although all apps are now required to ask for your permission first, if you do choose ‘yes’ by accident or you just change your mind, you are able to turn off app tracking easily through your iPhone’s settings. There are two ways that you are able to do this. One way is in your settings you can tap on your app and then tap to turn off the “Allow Tracking” option. Another way is to go to Privacy in your Settings and either tap to turn off the “Allow Apps to Request to Track” option located at the top to turn the option off for all apps or go down the list to turn off individual apps.
Turning off app tracking on an Android Phone
As with iPhone you are able to control what apps, if any, you want to allow to track on your Android phone. Again, as with an Apple phone, you will be asked first from the app itself but if you do need to change that after it is quite easy to do on Android as well.
To turn off location tracking: First, go to your Settings and tap “Advanced”, then choose “App Permissions.” From there, select “Location”. At this time you will see a list of apps that have access to tracking and you are able to turn this option off for any apps you don’t want to have access to your information. With Android, you don’t have the choice to allow tracking only while you have the app open as you do with iPhone. It is either on or off.
To turn off ad tracking: On your Android device, go to “Settings” then tap on Google to see your account settings. Tap on “Ads” then tap “rest advertising ID.” On the following screen, you can then choose to “Disable personalized ads.” Doing so will turn off your phone’s ability to use your unique ID to track you across apps. It doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that all of your information is safe from being collected by apps/websites.
What else can I do to end tracking of my data and online information?
Some other things you can do that will help decrease the amount of information you leave online for third-party apps to keep include:
- Remove cookies and search history from your internet browser on all your devices. If you use Google Chrome and are signed in, your browser on your phone will have the same information as your desktop. Regularly deleting your history is a good way to keep your data from being left in the wrong hands.
- Turn off location settings on your phone and delete your location history which includes a logged record of everywhere you have been. You are able to do this on both iPhone and Android.
- Choose to limit ad tracking through your Settings. This can be done on both iPhone and Android phones. It won’t stop ads from appearing but it will allow you to reset your advertising ID and unlink the targeted advertising that is connected to your phone.
- Use a private web browser on your phone. If you’re usually committed to only using your default internet browser such as Safari, there are other options such as Firefox which erases browsing history after each use. It also blocks advertising and all trackers automatically.
Should I allow App Tracking for some apps?
Ultimately, it is completely up to you if you would like to allow app tracking or not. There are some apps that will be useless to you without allowing them to access your location though. Using Google Maps to help you reach a location for instance isn’t going to help you if you don’t allow your location to be known. Restaurant take-out apps or a grocery pickup app use your location to pick the closest location that is convenient for you and the location will be notified when you arrive. Fitness apps ask to turn on app tracking so that they can find out information about your steps etc. so they can better provide you with your progress. With tracking turned off, you will have to manually enter the information yourself.
App tracking isn’t something new to smartphones. Only recently have people become more aware of data collection, app tracking and their relationship to the data you keep on your phone’s apps. App tracking may not be your biggest concern as data privacy has become a huge issue, especially now that the pandemic has pushed much of our work and activities online.
Looking for more information about data privacy and how to keep your personal data safe when online? Join the Ctrl.ly movement.