Smartphone apps sending out personal information

Amanda Carey Contributor

If you’re thinking about buying an iPhone for that special someone for Christmas this year, you might want to think again.

The smartphone is sharing personal data – like name, location and phone number – with other companies, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.

The investigation discovered that among 101 of the most popular iPhone applications – “apps” – 56 sent out the phone’s unique ID number to other companies without the user’s consent or knowledge. Forty-seven also sent location, and five sent age and gender.

It’s not just the iPhone, though. Smartphones outfitted with Google’s Android system were shown to transmit such data as well, although to a lesser extent.

Popular iPhone apps that were found to transmit private data included TextPlus4, Grindr, PaperToss, PumpkinMaker, and Apple’s version of Pandora. On the Android, an app for the social-network site MySpace, in particular, was found to transmit information about the user’s gender and the device’s ID number to an ad network.

This investigation comes just months after it was revealed that tracking systems in cell phones were making victims more vulnerable to stalkers and other crimes. Due in part to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations that require cell phone manufactures to outfit phones with GPS systems, these tracking devices were supposed to make it easier for police or emergency workers to locate a missing person.

The FCC regulations mandated that providers like cell phone providers equip 95 percent of their networks with GPS technology.

But now, it’s virtually impossible to keep anyone from accessing and learning how to manipulate the technology. It has become so much of a problem, in fact, that the Wall Street Journal reported that domestic-violence shelters are now dismantling cell phones every time someone new seeks a safe haven.

It also appears that many apps don’t even offer things as simple as written privacy policies. Forty-five of the 101 apps tested did not have privacy policies, a problem that is probably not helped by the fact that neither Apple nor Google require their apps to provide them.

The investigation also pointed out that the two companies involved with information-sending smartphone technology — Google and Apple — also have some of the highest stakes in the ad business.

Privacy concerns in the technology world are not limited to smartphones, however.  Last year, Google — which has more online users than any other internet company — started tracking what kind of websites its users visit in order to better target ads.

And then there’s the social network Facebook, which also got caught red-handed providing personal information to ad companies earlier this year. The privacy breach, facilitated by the site’s apps, affected users with even the strictest privacy settings.