Privacy and processing of personal data in apps on your smartphone

Managing privacy on your smartphone is very important, but at the same time complicated. Here's how to do it

Every time we install an app on our cell phone we give up a little piece, and sometimes a big one, of our privacy. But who do we give it to? Where does our personal data really go? Who is responsible for their custody and their correct use?

According to these questions is not easy, not even for experts, because behind the simple and daily gesture of installing and using a smartphone app there is a very complex data management. Which isn't even always the same, because not all apps collect the same data. There are apps that simply record our interests and then administer targeted advertising or offer us products that are similar to our tastes (for example, the various e-commerce apps). There are apps that even know where we were a year ago and for how long we were there (e.g. Google Maps). What does the law say about all this?

Apps, privacy and GDPR

For a few years now, we can no longer talk about privacy without also mentioning an acronym: GDPR, i.e. General Data Protection Regulation, the new European regulation on the processing of personal data. The GDPR provides for the figure of the data controller, which is the person physically and legally responsible for the proper custody and use of our data. If someone steals our personal information and uses it in a way that doesn't comply with the law, then that person is in trouble.

When we use an app, however, things get complicated: each app is created by a developer, who often writes it on behalf of another company, and when we use it, the data also passes through the Internet via our home or mobile subscription. Who is responsible for processing the data at each stage of this process? To be honest, an answer is still not there: the GDPR has been in force since mid-2018, but its application is still very fuzzy. Many National Privacy Authorities have already expressed themselves on the matter, but not all opinions are going in the same direction.

Apps and privacy: caution is a must

Given the still unclear situation, and the still ineffective legislation, if we want to protect our privacy when we use apps, much of the effort has to be done by us. The first thing to do, even before installing the app, is to check on the store from which we are downloading it who the developer is and what privacy policy he applies. Then it is essential to read the list of permissions requested by the app because, if any permission requested is not immediately understandable, it is very likely that the app was written primarily to steal personal data from the smartphones of those who install it.

How to limit the sharing of personal data

It is possible to limit the collection and sharing of your personal data, but it requires an extra effort. First of all, it is advisable to read well the privacy policy of the app and have the courage to refuse it: if the app asks us too much, don't install it. On smartphones with the latest operating systems, Android 10 and iOS 13, it is then possible to configure the way in which apps access our data. We can do this by changing the permissions, setting them all so that the app can only access our data, location, camera, microphone and Bluetooth while we're using it and not in the background as well.