BLOG ARTICLE
Last updated: 01.10.21

Circle of Trust: Do Mobile Apps Know More Than Our Nearest And Dearest?

Nowadays, there is an app for pretty much everything. From finding a date to tracking your fitness journey, right through to doing a spot of shopping to sharing your thoughts on social media. 

But just how much do these apps know about you? What if we compared them to your nearest and dearest? 

Well, it might shock you to hear that apps such as Facebook know more about you than your parents and siblings... 

And soon apps could know more about us than ever before, with the UK’s new Information Commissioner highlighting his plans to scrap cookie pop-ups as part of a post-Brexit data protection ‘shake-up’. He also voiced his desire to move towards a less ‘box ticking’ privacy protection method.

Although the GDPR currently in place offers a level of protection with regards to the way apps handle our data, it does not stop people from using our information completely. 

In fact, cookies are now commonly being used at the forefront of aggressive marketing strategies. Internet giants such as Google make billions from tracking our online activities and selling data to third parties. 

Take this Dragons Den pitch, for example. Selling data has become such a big issue that a British entrepreneur has founded a profitable business on rewarding consumers for doing so. 

This got us thinking - who, or what, actually knows us best? 

By trawling through lengthy, and quite frankly boring, privacy policies of some of the most popular mobile apps, we found out what each of these collects from set criteria of personal information. We then compared this to how much our closest friends and family know about us, so scroll down to see what we found out. 

These apps know the most about us and this is how they compare with our nearest and dearest.

Which apps know you best? 

You can also download this infographic as a PDF here.

As you might have expected, it is our partners who know us best, but our other halves are closely followed by the social networking app, Facebook. 

The platform knows a whopping 78% of the personal information criteria we analysed including our sexual orientation, religious belief, general interests, and even our mother’s maiden name.

Ranking higher than your best friend are popular dating apps Bumble and Tinder and online shopping platforms eBay and Nike. So, believe it or not, you’re probably spilling more secrets to Tinder than your so-called bestie. 

Another interesting finding is that most mobile apps collect data and track online activity - even when you’re not using them. So you might not let your Mum know that you’re popping to the shops, but Facebook will know exactly where you are thanks to IP address signalling and device settings. 

Apps also collect our information through third parties, for instance, ad-partners distribute data back to the app provider. Data transferred can include contact details and interests in order to present you with adverts personalised to you. 

We were also intrigued to find out which apps are the most intrusive across different genres. Read on below to see what we found out!

Dating Apps

Dating apps that know the most about you 

Collectively, dating apps ranked the highest in terms of just how much they know about us. 

This isn’t that surprising though as, in order to create a suitable profile to attract your perfect match, you would expect to have to share a reasonable amount of personal data. What is interesting though is that we’re more likely to share our sexual orientation with Bumble and Tinder than we are with our extended family and friends.

Social Networking Apps

Social networks that know the most about you 

Social networking apps are the platforms where users are most willing to share personal information, photographs and videos with friends and family. But, what people are less aware of is that information they share with friends they’ve either accepted or requested is also being collected and stored by the platforms themselves. 

How many times have you logged onto a social media app such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and an advert pops up about something you were only thinking about yesterday? This is because social media apps are capable of knowing not only what you tell them but tracking your in-app activity too. From the ads that you click on to the profiles you've viewed, they are able to gauge where your interests lie and use this to their advantage.

Many social platforms are interlinked too. For example, Facebook also owns Instagram so, perhaps unknowingly to you, Facebook is also able to access the information from your profile on the image-sharing platform as well.

Health and Fitness Apps

Health and fitness apps that know the most about you 

If a colleague or extended family member asked you for your exact body measurements, you are likely to be quite shocked. Interestingly though, many of us will happily give this information to health apps such as My Fitness Pal and Slimming World. 

Out of the health and fitness apps we looked at, My Fitness Pal ranked the highest for the information they collect, scoring 57% of the criteria analysed and knowing as much about you as a close friend does on average.

As well as the information you knowingly give to these apps, Android and iOS technologies enable health and fitness platforms to track you even when you don’t know they’re doing so. Step count, sleep data and live location information are among some of the information these apps are capable of knowing without you being aware. 

Business Apps

Business apps that know the most about you 

For apps in the business/work genre, Indeed ranks the highest for what it knows about you. The job search site requires information such as your past and present employers, your current salary, and even your passport or driving licence - something that most people only let their partners see. 

Through interacting on Microsoft Teams and Gmail, these apps have access to your contacts and conversations. GDPR protects against the leaking of such information, but even so, it is important to be aware of who and what has access to your sensitive or private data before granting access to all. 

The ‘Zoom Boom’ really took off during the Coronavirus pandemic, with video calls being the saving grace during the home-working restrictions. But, despite the increased popularity of the platform, Zoom didn’t even make the top five. Asking only 26% of the criteria analysed, the amount of personal data it collects is minimal, especially when compared to the similar platform, Microsoft Teams.

Most requested personal data 

So, think about just how many times you’ve downloaded an app and given away your full name, date of birth, email address, phone number and even your home address without a second thought. Would you dish out the same information to a colleague, friend or family member without questioning why they wanted it first? Probably not.

Methodology

We compiled a list of the 50 most popular mobile apps across a range of genres to find out what information they ask users for in their terms and conditions, profiles and privacy agreements. We then compiled a list of information points, such as full name, email and phone number, that were common amongst the apps. Each app was then analysed with regards to this list, with each one being attributed a percentage of data collected and then ranked. 

We then compared this to how much our closest friends and family know about us by conducting a survey that asked individuals to detail which of the same information points their nearest and dearest knew about them. These relations were similarly attributed with a percentage of information they know, the scores from which were then compared with the mobile apps.

The data was correct as of September 2021 and every step has been taken to ensure that the information used in the study is as accurate as possible. 

A full dataset is available upon request.

Sources

https://appfigures.com/top-apps/ios-app-store/united-kingdom/iphone/top-overall

https://apps.apple.com/us/story/id1535572713

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/google-app-gmail-chrome-data 

https://screenrant.com/how-to-find-data-apps-collect/ 

Terms and conditions and privacy policies of each of the apps

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