Your phone is ratting you out

As if you didn’t have enough issues with your data being sold, bartered or stolen every day of the week, now you should start keeping a closer eye on your phone. Geoffrey A. Fowler at the WaPo did some research and a few experiments to see just how “busy” his iPhone was when it was supposedly snoozing. Turns out that his phone has a very exciting life of its own, and yours probably does too.

Mine has been alarmingly busy. Even though the screen is off and I’m snoring, apps are beaming out lots of information about me to companies I’ve never heard of. Your iPhone probably is doing the same — and Apple could be doing more to stop it.

On a recent Monday night, a dozen marketing companies, research firms and other personal data guzzlers got reports from my iPhone. At 11:43 p.m., a company called Amplitude learned my phone number, email and exact location. At 3:58 a.m., another called Appboy got a digital fingerprint of my phone. At 6:25 a.m., a tracker called Demdex received a way to identify my phone and sent back a list of other trackers to pair up with.

And all night long, there was some startling behavior by a household name: Yelp. It was receiving a message that included my IP address -— once every five minutes.

The really shocking one there, at least to me, was Yelp. While the owner is snoozing away for eight hours, his Yelp app is sending and receiving data nearly 100 times. It’s providing his IP address and who knows what else. His phone number, email address and exact location are being sent off in neat little digital packages, all without his permission or any proactive agreement on his part.

Is it happening to you? Sounds like the answer is almost certainly yes, and that applies if you have an Android phone instead of the iPhone flavor. And this is particularly true if, like virtually everyone, you have some “free” apps installed on your phone. Remember the new reality of marketing: If you are receiving some sort of digital service for free, you are the product. Or more precisely, your data is the product. And it’s being bought and sold like goods at a fence’s shop.

The list of outfits being contacted by the author’s phone included many names you probably recognize. Microsoft OneDrive, Intuit’s Mint, Nike, Spotify, The Washington Post, and IBM’s the Weather Channel were all on the list. There are more companies you might not be familiar with. Some of these are the massive data shops that now do a thriving business collecting and selling data to major advertisers.

What can you do? I’m no expert, but the security professionals quoted in the article suggest trying Privacy Pro for iPhone. For Android users, you might try Disconnect, though as Fowler points out, it’s banned from the Google Play store. (Note: I have not tried either of these products but they seem well rated.)

And now that you have one more thing to worry about, I think I’ll go sign up for my old landline.