Many Smartphone Apps Give Away Your Data Without Consent

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The Wall Street Journal's outstanding investigation into how online tools track us continues today with a look at mobile apps. According to the Journal, dozens of the 101 smartphone apps they tested transmitted users' phones' unique IDs, personal details, and location data without user consent. Worse yet, the apps provide little control over stopping the transmissions, which often go to advertising firms.

Smartphone users are all but powerless to limit the tracking. With few exceptions, app users can't "opt out" of phone tracking, as is possible, in limited form, on regular computers. On computers it is also possible to block or delete "cookies," which are tiny tracking files. These techniques generally don't work on cellphone apps. The makers of TextPlus 4, Pandora and Grindr say the data they pass on to outside firms isn't linked to an individual's name. Personal details such as age and gender are volunteered by users, they say. The maker of Pumpkin Maker says he didn't know Apple required apps to seek user approval before transmitting location. The maker of Paper Toss didn't respond to requests for comment.

Read the full story at The Wall Street Journal.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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