A quick guide to app tracking

How often after downloading an app have you been asked to share your data? How many times have you said yes – even if you didn’t really know what it meant? In either case, you’re not alone. 

When you use an app, search the web or send a message, you leave behind a trail of information that, for better or worse, is at the whim of the developers whose access you granted. That’s why it’s important to know who’s accessing your data, why they need it and how they’re using it to their benefit. In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about apps that track your data. 

Why are apps tracking you? 

The short answer? Because they can sell your data to advertisers. In a study of over 250 App Store labels, the New York Times found that 57% of apps explicitly mentioned advertising as their reason for tracking user activity. 

Your approval gives the developer permission to link information about you to an advertising profile that can track you across apps and the web at large. This is valuable for advertisers that seek to target their ads to the most optimal user. 

A quick guide to app tracking

How does app tracking work? 

Data collection and app tracking are nothing new to developers. Nowadays, however, companies are compelled by market conditions to be more transparent about the process. That’s why iPhone users now must explicitly agree to allow apps, like Facebook, to track data.  

When you agree to app tacking, according to Forbes, the developer uses something called an identifier for advertisers (IDFA). The IDFA collects insights about purchase histories, buying habits and other behaviors so that an advertiser can gauge the effectiveness of their campaign or send more targeted advertisements. 

What types of data are being collected? 

Apps have long collected data about their users, but only recently have developers started letting the public look behind the curtain. Apple – whose global App Store is used by millions of users –  launched its App Tracking Transparency program in 2021.  

In short, the program allows users to control which apps are allowed to track activity across other apps and websites, but also requires developers to abide by these rules. Of the 14 types of data that apps collect, Apple breaks them down into three categories: 

  • Data used to track you: Per the New York Times, 60% of apps collect this type of data. In short, data used to track you includes any information that is shared across multiple apps, ad networks and companies.
  • Data linked to you: This is any data that might include personally identifiable information but is not shared with other apps and companies.
  • Data not linked to you: This category includes mostly innocuous data aggregated by the developer for analytics and diagnostic purposes. 

Bottom line: Apps are tracking you and selling your data to third-party companies. There’s no telling how secure your data is in their possession. If they suffer a data breach, it could be your personal information that’s exposed to the public. 

How to manage app tracking permissions 

Fortunately, there are two things you can do about it.  

Firstly, you can withdraw permission for an app to track your activity. Here’s how: 

  1. Go to your iPhone’s Settings. 
  1. Choose Privacy. 
  1. Select Tracking. 
  1. Tap to turn off tracking for each app. 
  1. Switch off “Allow Apps to Request to Track” to deny all apps that request permission. 

Secondly, you can start taking action. To learn more about online security, check out our Total Defense Security blog or contact us to speak with an expert.