TripAdvisor, Skyscanner among top apps sending sensitive data to Facebook


Facebook doesn't exactly have the best reputation when it comes to protecting user privacy, so it should come as little surprise that several popular apps for Android are sharing data with the social network, and doing so without clear permission, according to a recently published study by Privacy International. This happens whether people have a Facebook account or not, or whether they are logged into Facebook or not.

"If combined, data from different apps can paint a fine-grained and intimate picture of people's activities, interests, behaviors and routines, some of which can reveal special category data, including information about people's health or religion", Privacy International claims. For instance, Kayak, which is a travel search engine, was found to be sending flight and destination search data, travel dates and even information on whether or not a user is bringing kids along to a flight.

'For example, an individual who has installed the following apps that we have tested, Qibla Connect (a Muslim prayer app), Period Tracker Clue (a period tracker), Indeed (a job search app), My Talking Tom (a children's app), could be potentially profiled as likely female, likely Muslim, likely jobseeker, likely parent, ' the report stated.

When app developers complained about the problem to Facebook, the company said that an SDK update would fix the issue, but many popular apps are not using it. Even though it's not possible to completely opt out of the data sharing, it's possible to minimize the data sharing by segregating data, resetting your advertising ID and opt-out of data personalization, and blocking apps that use Facebook's Software Development Kit.

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Facebook's SDK is a platform that the firm offers to developers and lets users login to other services with their Facebook account.

The report's findings have raised concerns that the apps could be violating the EU's General Data Protection Regulation privacy rules, which went into effect on May 25, 2018. It is unclear at this point how the data shared by apps with Facebook is being used. Post-GDPR, Facebook introduced a voluntary option that allowed developers to request consent for data collection - but it only works on newer versions of the SDK.

The list of apps found to share data with Facebook without consent includes Kayak, MyFitnessPal, Skyscanner and TripAdvisor, the report explains.

"We also found that some apps routinely send Facebook data that is incredibly detailed and sometimes sensitive". Some of the developers who made the changes say the problem continues to linger even with the new Facebook SDK in place. Privacy International also notes Facebook launched it a month after the regulations came into force.

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