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Our smartphone data is tracked and shared, but transparency on how isn't always clear

FTC warns tracking and selling sensitive data can violate privacy and be unfair
Our smartphone data is tracked and shared, but transparency on how isn't always clear
Posted at 5:00 AM, Sep 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-15 08:09:21-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — For most of us smartphones have become an important part of our daily lives. Just one look at our phones and someone would know a whole lot about us.

News5 spoke with cyber experts about how our phones are constantly collecting information about us, what we do, and where we go.

The experts say unfortunately that information isn’t always private and when that data is collected with or without us knowing it is being packaged and sold in a marketplace of data brokers and advertisers. It’s impossible to know who has information about us and how it’s being used.

“This is something that’s been going on for more than a decade. Ever since phones like iPhones and Androids have become more common there is a lot that gets gathered regularly on those devices,” said Forrest Senti of the National Cybersecurity Center.

Senti is a cybersecurity expert in Colorado Springs and says allowing apps to access your data and location can be helpful, but not always.

”Maybe they want your data so they can say, hey, there is a facility nearby and we want to get two hour shipping to you. We can’t know that if you don’t share your information. So sometimes it helps you,” said Senti. “But in some cases it might hurt you too because you don’t want them to know about your shopping preferences, or your political preferences, or even your GPS location for example because those things do get shared.”

The Federal Trade Commission is working to crackdown on a lack of transparency about this type of tracking saying in a recent alert it “can cause enormous harm to consumers, including stigma, emotional distress, discrimination, or even physical violence.”

The experts say it’s worth checking to see what’s on our phones.

“You have a way to control those preferences. You can change those permissions, you can change those things and you can prevent them from doing so,” said Senti.

When it comes to location tracking it isn’t hard to find out which apps are doing that tracking. On an iPhone you click on settings, then privacy, and then location services. You’ll see the apps with permission to know exactly where you are.

Senti says people with certain phones need to be especially careful when downloading new apps.

“If you have an Android, it’s more common on Android devices for the apps to be nefarious,” said Senti. “So, taking the time to verify the source and where that application came from on an Android device is the one thing I would add.”

Cyber experts say there are some steps that you can take right away to better protect yourself and the information in your phone:

- Check location permissions on every app on your phone

- Check your settings regularly as apps can update their defaults without our knowledge.

- Read the fine print to what information is being collected and how it’s being used.

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