It used to be that companies mostly tracked users through their web browsers. While this type of data collection is still done, it is falling out of favor as many browsers tighten down on privacy. The big moneymaker for data brokers these days is your smartphone.
Surfshark recently conducted a study of iOS apps and found that collectively browsers gather the least amount of information on users—some don’t aggregate any. However, dozens of other apps and services want to know a lot more about you than you would like them to know. Keep in mind that collected data here means information a company may share, not the data needed to make its app function.
It probably comes as no surprise that topping the list of data hogs is Facebook. Combing through the new App Store privacy “nutrition labels” and the policies of the studied companies, Surfshark found that the Facebook app collects 32 points of data in all of Apple’s 14 different categories. This cache includes five types of user content, four kinds of contact information, the user’s search history, and even three types of financial info.
It is also not surprising that every Facebook-owned app (except WhatsApp)—Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram—all top the most data-hungry apps for their respective categories and tie for first place out of all apps combined. They each collect the same data, which consists of everything collectible from your device. Facebook has long had privacy issues, so we’re not scratching our heads over this one.
You could also probably guess which company snoops the most under the categories of Streaming, Email, and Browsers. If Google was the first to come to mind, you know your Big Data brokers. Google’s YouTube, Gmail, and Chrome mobile browser gather more information on you than any other apps in their respective categories.
But we’ll stop telling you what you already know. What about stats that are a bit more surprising? For example, of the apps studied, the most popular ones collect the most data. People are literally giving their personal information away in droves rather than using more private apps. Or is it that data collectors are just drawn to the more popular apps? It’s the classic “chicken or the egg” causality dilemma.
Interestingly, food delivery apps tie social media overall for the amount of data they consume, but what apps gather the least amount of information? First and foremost are those built with privacy in mind.
For example, Telegram and Signal both claim they are built for privacy, and indeed they are toward the bottom of the list of messaging apps. However, they both still gather, store, and possibly share a small amount of data. The only messaging apps that do not collect any user information whatsoever are Cisco’s Webex Meetings, and a messaging program called Dust.
The least invasive GPS app is a little-known one called InRoute. It is the only one that does not collect any data. Waze GPS, which is probably the most popular GPS app out there, is the nosiest. It gathers 21 segments of data, including your health and fitness info.
Spike, Edison Mail, or Apple’s email app are the best alternatives if you want an email client that doesn’t pry into your business too much. They each collect less than five points of information.
If you’d like to see how the apps you use measure up, or are looking for more private alternatives, check out the interactive chart above, or visit Surfshark’s study. Surfshark is a VPN. While we found its study interesting, we do not necessarily endorse its services.