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  • Due to the intrusive privileges given to these apps, neither Apple nor Google are notified when the apps are active and transmitting information to a third party.

    Due to the intrusive privileges given to these apps, neither Apple nor Google are notified when the apps are active and transmitting information to a third party. | Photo: Reuters

Published 23 February 2019

Among the top spying apps are Flo Health, an ovulation-tracking app; Realtor.com, a real estate app; and Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor.

Health and fitness apps may have been all the rage in 2015, but a report from the Wall Street Journal warns smartphone users they are not the only ones keeping track of their progress.

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Regardless of whether a user has Facebook downloaded to their phone, the social media giant receives waves of personal information which can notify the company if an individual is looking for a home, is pregnant, or has high blood pressure through its partnerships with various applications, thereby facilitating target marketing strategies.

The Wall Street Journal also noted that due to the unusual and slightly intrusive privileges given to these applications, neither Apple nor Google are notified when the apps are active and transmitting information to a third party.

Among the top informers are Flo Health, an ovulation-tracking app; Realtor.com, a real estate app; and Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor. However there are at least 11 other apps, the New York-based publication said after thoroughly testing of the 70 most popular Apple iOS apps.

Facebook has defended its partnerships, saying, "Sharing information across apps on your iPhone or Android device is how mobile advertising works and is industry standard practice. The issue is how apps use information for online advertising. We prohibit app developers from sending us sensitive data. We also take steps to detect and remove data that should not be shared with us."

The social media company also said applications were required to notify users of the privacy stipulations and its plans to share information, although none of the 11 seem to follow these regulations.

Flo Health first told Wall Street reporters they never shared personal user information with third parties, before correcting their statement, saying they “substantially limited” the use of analytics tools from outside companies. Research showed that the company had created a unique ID to track the user’s profile and the device type and match it to a Facebook counterpart.

While Garner Bornstein, co-founder of the meditation app, Breethe, confirmed his software was sending email addresses to Facebook.

“Clearly, Facebook’s business model is unique and, unfortunately, we were not as diligent in aligning our data management with their privacy policy as we should have been,” he said.

Democrat politicians are demanding federal regulators intercede, ending the practice and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is calling for an “immediate investigation” by the state’s Department of State and Department of Financial Services into the “clear violation of consumer privacy.”

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