Should Apps Be Able to Collect Information About You?

This is a tricky one. Apps have taken over our computing. It’s just easier to head to an app on your phone, tablet, or computer than it is to go to a website on a browser.

However, is the ease-of-use worth it if apps are tracking and collecting information about you? Uber was discovered breaking Apple’s rules. They were tracking users even after they deleted their app from their phones. And it’s also been said that Uber is buying email information from an email unsubscription service.

Both are troubling. With all that going on, what do apps really need to know about you? We asked our writers, “Should apps be able to collect information about you?

Alex doesn’t “want every app on my phone to have access to my contacts, for example, but I know apps need to collect information about users and devices for basic functionality and as a monetization strategy.” He doesn’t mind Google collecting information because he has a good idea of what they’re doing with it, but he has a problem when “companies like Uber intentionally and maliciously subvert App Store guidelines.” He has a problem with Facebook for similar reasons, so it comes down to “how clear the app is with its end users about what it’s collecting and why.”

Ada says, “If user data makes companies money, I don’t see a way we can stop apps collecting info about us.” They shouldn’t be doing it behind our backs, and while they do need some data on us, she feels “very often they are asking for/gathering data that is none of their business.” She is not as confident as Alex and questions all companies and the data they collect.

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Simon feels “apps gathering information can be both a blessing and a curse.” While there are apps that harvest users’ data with a goal of selling it, there are also apps that use the data to improve their service and show relevant ads. He believes there should be a screen that pops up when you install an app, similar to the Android Install permissions screen. Users can then proceed at their own risk.

Robert doesn’t have a problem with apps gathering data, as “it’s pretty much the means by which we get all this lovely stuff for free.” He figures if there was a paid option that promised not to gather data, people wouldn’t go for it because they would still want everything for free. However, “there needs to be transparency about it,” as it sounds like Uber is functioning like a malware. He thinks it’s okay if users are aware what is being gathered, they agree to it, and it doesn’t tap into the data after it’s deleted.

Derrik isn’t sure how he feels about data gathering, as more and more services are doing it, but he doesn’t appreciate “being the product.” He agrees with Robert that it happens because people just want free apps, and that’s why he tries to buy Pro versions of apps as much as possible and install things on his network that block data gathering.

I think Simon’s on the right track with thinking that apps could have a screen pop up that alerts users to what data they’re collecting, allowing them to back out if they want. Facebook does this with third-party apps. They let you know what the apps are gathering about you, whether it’s your email, your friends list, etc. I often go through that list and uncheck the items that aren’t necessary for them to be gathering, especially my email. I think this could be the way to solve the problem.

Do you agree with our writers regarding data gathering? Are you an Uber user who’s suddenly getting a little worried about what data of yours they’ve collected? Should apps be able to collect information about you? We need you to join our conversation and let us know how you feel about this in the comments section below.

5 comments

  1. The price of convenience is privacy and security.

    Why do we find it so objectionable/abhorent when the NSA and other government agencies collect data on us but think it is perfectly all right for aps and Internet companies to collect the same data???!!!

  2. @Alex & Robert:
    ” I know apps need to collect information about users and devices for basic functionality and as a monetization strategy.”
    Horse muffins! Bovine manure! Baloney!
    NO Linux distro, other than Ubuntu, collects ANY user information. Very few, if any, Linux applications collects ANY user information.

    It is ironic that the people who write applications for free are not the ones who are collecting user data and monetizing it. They find other ways to get remunerated. It is the giant corporations (M$, Google, Apple, etc.) who are raking in money hand over fist that are the ones to sell their users. What is even more ironic is that these big corporation have their users, such as yourself, absolutely convinced that it is their God-given right to collect and sell any and all data they collect. Talk about brainwashing! And it’s not like these dinky apps are free. You still have to pay for them. Maybe $0.99, $1.99 or $2.99 per copy is not much, but multiply that millions of users who ‘cannot live without’ Candy Crush or Angry Birds and you’re talking about serious money. No wonder M$, Google, Apple, et al can afford to have hundreds of $BILLIONS parked offshore

    • Your reasoning is slightly flawed. Sure, the people who create apps for free don’t have to collect data and make money on it. But that isn’t a money-making business. If you plan to make your living by being an app developer, you have to do something to collect money on them, whether it’s to sell your “dinky app” for a small fee, have in-app purchases, sell the data, display ads, etc. If you give it away for free, then you’re not making money in your business, meaning it’s not a business but a hobby.

      That’s not to say they have to sell the data to make money on it, but they still have to do something. And that’s what makes me not mind spending $.99 on an app, or spending $2.99 for an in-app purchase. I enjoy the app, so I don’t mind supporting them in their business.

      • “Your reasoning is slightly flawed.”
        Only if you subscribe to the stereotype of a Linux programmer being a pasty-faced, overweight, socially inept nerd living in his parents basement.

        • The lifestyle of the app developer has nothing to do with it. I work amongst the tech community and write and edit for the community. I would never reduce them to such standards as you have. It’s denigrating.

          It comes down to business. If you want to call app development your business, then you have to do something to make money in it, whether it be sell data, charge for your apps, etc.

          It’s the same thing as running a website. If you want to make money on a website then you have to run ads, charge for your content, etc. Otherwise it’s not a business, it’s a hobby.

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