Facebook-owned apps can track and harvest your data even if you aren’t actively using them
07/27/2021 // Arsenio Toledo // Views

Many smartphone apps track people's data, including their current locations, even when they are not actively using them. Experts say one of the worst offenders is Facebook Messenger, the social media company's dedicated messaging app.

Experts are now encouraging people to do their research and think about what personal data they could be giving away by downloading and signing up to apps like Facebook Messenger.

"I am mindful about who to invite into my home so I'd think the same about what I have on my phone and be conservative with the apps you download," said Michael Huth, chief research officer and co-founder of a personal privacy-oriented browser with its own search engine and app.

Huth advised people to downgrade what Facebook Messenger can access from their smartphones. The Facebook app can harvest all sorts of data from its users if they do not do so, especially if they are unaware of what the app can access.

"Companies like Google and Facebook are trying to hide what they do with data and make it sound positive," said Xayn co-founder and CEO Leif-Nissen Lundbaek. "They include language that sounds like they protect privacy although they don't."

Another example Lundbaek gave is WhatsApp, a supposedly private messaging service owned by Facebook with end-to-end encryption. (Related: Millions of WhatsApp users are leaving after company announced new privacy policy that will FORCE users to share data with Facebook.)

Lundbaek said WhatsApp offers small features that Facebook claims improve its privacy. In reality, these features do little to safeguard people's data.


"There is a range of apps like the Google browser and TiKTok that are worse than WhatsApp, but it's still not a good example," he said. "It's not a protector of privacy."

"They are tracking everything from interactions, to what other apps you are using, and locations and movement," added Lundbaek.

Other Facebook-owned apps handing over user data to parent company

Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram are all owned by Facebook. They are all notorious for sharing a lot of private data with the parent company.

WhatsApp's current policies protect the contents of a person's chats, including photos, videos and calls, from being harvested by Facebook. Whether this privacy policy is followed to the letter is not known.

What the end-to-end encrypted messaging service can share are a user's phone number and profile name. It can also share when a user sends a message to other people. A user's IP address can also be collected and shared with other Facebook-owned brands.

WhatsApp's privacy policy is intentionally vague. Its policy says it may share personal data with Facebook specifically highlighted in the policy, "or obtained upon notice to you or based on your consent."

A recent change in WhatsApp's privacy policy has also enabled businesses advertising with Facebook to store user chats n Facebook-owned servers. Zak Doffman, CEO of surveillance tech firm Digital Barriers, said this destroys WhatsApp's credibility as a supposedly end-to-end encrypted messaging service.

"WhatsApp says Facebook can't use this data, but the business can mine chats for advertising," said Doffman.

Instagram is a lot more direct with the data it harvests. Its privacy policy states that Facebook "connects information about your activities on different Facebook products and devices." The app supposedly does this to provide users with a "more tailored and consistent experience."

Furthermore, Instagram freely collects users' locations, places of residence, places they visit and details regarding the businesses and people they are near to and interact with to "provide, personalize and improve Facebook products."

In other words, Instagram shares this data with Facebook for targeted advertising.

Jake Moore, a cybersecurity specialist, warned people who want to use Instagram that it has fewer privacy controls than Facebook itself.

"Instagram has fewer privacy controls than Facebook," he said. "And you can't stop most of your data being shared between the platforms."

Learn more about how tech giants like Facebook get their hands on people's personal and private data by reading the latest articles at PrivacyWatch.news.

Sources include:



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