As the 1984 (seriously) hit goes: “I’m just an average man with an average life … but why do I always feel like I’m in the twilight zone and I always feel like somebody’s watching me and I have no privacy.  I always feel like somebody’s watching me. Tell me is it just a dream.” In 1984, it may have been just a dream. But now, we know that somebody’s watching all of us, or at least trying to.

In late January, news came to light about Facebook Research, an app that caused Apple to revoke Facebook’s Developer Certificate. The app would pay users $20 a month for unfettered access to watch everything that the users did on their phones. Facebook’s target audience for the app was 13 to 35 year olds, and as such included significant numbers of minors. Troublingly, Facebook was able to sidestep Apple’s App Store and Apple’s ordinary vetting process. Facebook’s efforts at data collection are not new. Some believe that this app is essentially the same as a VPN that Facebook stopped distributing a year ago when Apple prohibited apps that collect unnecessary data. Of course, Facebook isn’t the only company that is doing these things.  Google recently disabled an app (Screenwise Meter) that similarly sidestepped Apple’s App Store and collected internet usage data from its users. A recent article warned against using third-party weather apps because of widespread selling of the users’ location data to other third parties. This widespread data gathering is likely an unintended consequence of our demand for free apps.

To limit the gathering of your personal data, consider the following tips:

  • Question whether you really need the app.  Many times, you can get the same functionality from the company’s website through your browser, without providing as much personal information.
  • Install apps only from the main app store.
  • Limit the data permissions that you give to the app.
  • Delete unused apps and accounts.  Sometimes apps collect data even when not in use.

Perhaps some of the best tips come from “Somebody’s Watching Me” when you encounter a new app or technology, ask yourself: “Who’s watching me?” “Who’s playing tricks on me?” and “”Can I have my privacy?”

Check out our series, Privacy Perils, to learn what steps you can take to guard your personal and company data. For more information about this topic and other cyber security concerns, please contact a member of our Privacy & Data Security team.