IPhone, apps spy on you and track even while you sleep

Research conducted by a Washington Post reporter reveals that many iPhone apps send users' personal data to third-party company servers

If you have an iPhone, instead of an Android smartphone, is your privacy safer and can you sleep soundly? No, since right at night from your Apple device tons of data are sent to third-party companies, collected during your typical day. This has been discovered by Geoffrey A. Fowler, Technology columnist of the Washington Post, who, among other things, has discovered that even the app of the newspaper he writes on sends data at night.

Fowler relied on the advice of a company specializing in privacy, called Disconnect, and found that during a week of monitoring as many as 5,400 tracking codes sent 1.5 GB of data to their servers. And they did so mostly when least likely to be monitored: at night. These trackers were hidden in most of the apps installed on Fowler's iPhone: from Yelp to Microsoft One Drive, via Spotify, Nike, Mint, IBM's Wheather Channel and even the Washington Post app on which Fowler himself writes. The Citizen app, which provides information to its users about crimes committed in the city, even shared personal information that made the user identifiable, in blatant violation of its own privacy policy.

How app trackers work

To understand how hidden trackers in apps work, just remember how cookies on websites work: our behavior on the site (in this case on the app) is recorded and then sent anonymously (in theory) to "improve the service." Most of these trackers send the data while the smartphone is charging, so very often at night. The data is not only sent to the company that developed the app: many apps also integrate third-party trackers that send data to external companies. In this way, the developer of the app recovers part of the expenses even if it provides a free service (our data is sold).

What Apple says about trackers

Apple commented on the investigation published by the Washington Post stating that "At Apple we do a great job of helping users keep their data private. Apple's hardware and software are designed to offer advanced security and privacy at every level of the system." Apple does, in fact, offer its iPhone users features such as limiting tracking for advertisements.

But Fowler recalls how, in January of this year at CES 2019, the company installed a giant banner ad in Las Vegas that read, "What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone." A clear reference to the saying "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas", what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. However, reading Fowler's investigation it would not appear that this is the case. While it's true that the Washington Post reporter didn't discover trackers made in Apple, it's also true that any app running on an iPhone can send data to just about anyone.