Popular Android apps keep sending your data to Facebook without consent

Popular Android apps have been reporting back to Facebook without your consent

Popular Android apps have been reporting back to Facebook without your consent

A new study has revealed that the relaying of sensitive information to Facebook is not coming from the dating apps alone. Privacy International found that Facebook's developer kit did not give the option of waiting for a user's permission before sending some data until at least four weeks after the introduction of GDPR.

The tested apps were for Android phones only, not iPhones. Facebook's SDK would collect data from devices, with developers being unable to prevent the SDK from collecting data about the user, including how long the use the particular app, when and their device ID. This happened even if a user didn't have a Facebook account or wasn't logged into one.

In some cases, the apps were sharing private data with the social media giant even if users didn't have a Facebook account. Such data may include information that users wouldn't want to divulge, such as whether they have any children, and this may be illegal in Europe under the new GDPR privacy act.

Typically, the data that is automatically transmitted first is events data that communicates to Facebook that the Facebook SDK has been initialized by transmitting data such as "App installed" and "SDK Initialized".

"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. Some, such as Kayak, the travel site, then sent detailed information about people's flight searches to Facebook, including travel dates, if the user had children and what flights and destinations they had searched for.

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The list of apps found to share data with Facebook without consent includes Kayak, MyFitnessPal, Skyscanner and TripAdvisor, the report explains. "Following the June change to our SDK, we also removed the signal that the SDK was initialized for developers that disabled automatic event logging", Facebook told Privacy International in an email.

For example, if the unique identifier was sent by a job-searching app and by a Muslim prayer app, the person might be identifiable as a Muslim job seeker.

The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new data protection law that entered into force on May 25, 2018.

A few of the companies highlighted in the study provided a statement to Financial Times, and at least one said it wasn't aware that this type of data was being shared with Facebook. But this was around 35 days after GDPR was implemented and now works only on Facebook's SDK version 4.34 and above. Facebook could use this data, later on, to serve ads based on some highly specific demographics. Some of the developers who made the changes say the problem continues to linger even with the new Facebook SDK in place.

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