Many ‚tracking-free‘ apps in iOS secretly track users

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Apple forces developers give clear privacy information to app users. But according to new research, four out of five tested apps that claim to not collect data from users actually do.

It reads like a fairly simple statement: „Data not collected“. Apple introduced such clear privacy labels for apps on its mobile operating system iOS over a year ago. They are supposed to show whether and which data the app passes on to its operators or third parties.

A sizeable portion of apps claim not to collect any data from users. But many of these labels are clearly false, as a technical analysis shared exclusively with netzpolitik.org has shown. Computer scientist Konrad Kollnig from Oxford University examined 1,682 randomly selected apps from Apple’s App Store. 373 of the apps tested (22.2 percent) claim not to collect personal data. However, four out of five, 299 apps in total, contacted known tracking domains immediately after the first app launch and without gaining user consent. (Data to be published soon, more details on the method here.)

One prominent app from Kollnig’s dataset is „RT News“ by the Russian state broadcaster. The app claims not to collect any data. To verify the accuracy of that claim, Kollnig loaded it onto a test device and navigated to a few random articles. In total, the RT app sent data to 19 domains. Not to Russia, but to tracking services of the tech giants Facebook and Google, the market research company ComScore and the advertising company Taboola.

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