iOS apps secretly send user data

Apple is committed to responsibly handling its customers’ information. But does this also apply to the apps on your iPhone? Do you know what data your iPhone sends while you sleep? A report reveals how apps collect and send user data, even if you haven’t opened those apps.

“What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.” What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone”. This advertising campaign was Apple’s reaction to the constant discussions about user data and tracking. Apple wants to communicate to its customers: “Your data is safe with us”, and thus create a unique selling point compared to the competition. Android systems in particular are known as large data collectors. Not surprisingly, it comes from the house of the mother of all data collectors: Google.

How to protect yourself

As a user, you don’t have to rely on Apple alone. There are many apps that can help. VPN services help make your data anonymous and can also block trackers. But even here caution is advised. Free VPN services are often suspected of also generating profit from their users’ data. Because if you use a VPN, all your network traffic is routed via the provider’s servers. So if you decide to use a VPN, we recommend that you take a few euros in your hand. You can find an overview of the best VPN services here.

And indeed – Apple shows how the handling of user data can take place. More and more data is only stored locally, special security chips ensure that it is securely encrypted. But what about the apps on your iPhone or iPad? After all, most of them come from third-party providers, and they are certainly not as committed to data protection as Apple. The Washington Post has teamed up with data protection company Disconnect to test when and which data iOS apps send. With a frightening result.
5400 trackers in the background – in one week.

In preparation for the experiment, Disconnect provided software to monitor incoming and outgoing traffic. This software registers which apps are sending data, when they are doing it and to whom. After one week the realization: Over 5400 trackers were used by the apps to send user data. And not only during the use of the apps, but also at night. And with the help of the background update. The background update is a feature in iOS that allows apps to receive and send data even when the app is not open.

The main purpose of this is to make apps update faster when you open them. For example, a weather app that immediately shows you the current weather without having to download the data first. But the experiment shows that many apps abuse this function to send user data to marketing and tracking companies on a regular basis.

Name, address, IP address

The list of apps that send user data unnoticed is long and full of big names: Microsoft OneDrive, Nike, Spotify, the Weather Channel, even the Washington Post’s own app. These are just a few examples. Many of the trackers, according to the Washington Post, serve to improve the performance of the apps. Others are obviously designed to display personalized advertising and track the success of marketing efforts. The app of the American food delivery service DoorDash alone has five trackers from Google and Facebook active. And another, which records the user’s address, name, e-mail address and mobile phone provider and sends it to the DoorDash servers. According to DoorDash, this data should monitor the performance of the app.

The Yelp recommendation and rating portal’s app even sends the user’s e-mail address to the company’s servers every five minutes. The company commented, stating that it was not a tracker but a bug.

How Apple could better protect its users

Could Apple do more to better protect its customers. In short, yes. But it’s a tough job. Because you can’t just restrict all connections from apps. Many of them are essential for the functionality of an app. But Apple could make adjustments in some places to increase the customer’s control over his data. Apple has already equipped the Safari browser with tools to prevent tracking through visited websites. A similar mechanism could be installed in iOS to give users more control over which apps send data at what time. A menu that displays tracking activity to the user in an overview would also be a good step.