Popular smartphone apps like WeatherBug, The Weather Channel and GasBuddy are tracking users' locations with extreme detail, collecting specific street addresses and extensive trip profiles, according to a new investigation by The New York Times.
The Times reviewed data from more than a million smartphones and found extensive data collection practices were also conducted by apps including theScore, DC Metro and Bus, Tube Map — an app for the London Underground subway system — and an app for free children's games called Masha and the Bear, which shares the name of a popular Russian children's television show.
That data are often sent or sold to advertisers and retailers, the Times found. The information is supposed to be anonymous but it's detailed enough to be easily linked to a user through homeowner records or employment. The apps frequently bury the intended commercial uses of the data in terms of service agreements or privacy settings, the investigation found.
The findings come at a time when consumers are increasingly locking down their data from companies, and tech giants like Google and Facebook are facing harsh criticism for their privacy practices.
Some of the largest tech firms have already adjusted their disclosures and default privacy settings. But revelations of tracking by smaller apps that haven't yet landed under public scrutiny could usher in sweeping changes in the data and advertising industries.