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How apps sneakily steal your privacy

Facebook apps

This is a very quick article (with lots of easy illustrations) to remind you that free apps often come with a tradeoff of privacy. Today I clicked on the video below because I figured it must be very good if over 15 million people had viewed it! Clicking on the video led to pop ups asking me to give up my privacy before I could view the video. I did eventually get to the video, but I was annoyed by the underhanded online marketing strategy that I’ve been noticing more and more on social media lately.

Enticing status update is suspicious too.

Enticing status update from a Facebook friend I know well

My Public Profile is already public, so who cares. But my email address and friend list are private!

When I clicked on the video, I could only get to it if I gave the app permission to my public profile (no problem), my email address (problem) and my friend list (problem). I went ahead, knowing I would remove the app right afterwards. But that wasn’t enough private data for them. Next, another pop up asked for permission to post on my behalf. I clicked “skip” and then watched the mildly entertaining video of a woman opening a heart box filled with creepy crawlers. She screamed and hung on the top of the seats. It was not the type of video I’d share and certainly not one worthy of millions of views. I was served a pop-up ad or two but I closed them without even reading them.

The status update claimed over 2 million views, the preview boasted over 15 million and a 12 million number polulated at the bottom of the video. None of these numbers are believable to me. I removed the app and contacted my friend to ask her about her motive for posting the video. She had not seen it, nor did she have any knowledge of the post on her own Timeline.

What is my point? The point is to avoid allowing apps to post on your behalf! Many of us are curious or want the prize we’ll get if we grant the permission, but who knows what an app will post on your behalf once you give it permission?

This practice of getting us to click on something because our friends did it first feels like an underhanded herd mentality marketing strategy. The marketer’s premise is that you are more likely to read or purchase something if your friend recommends it but as you can see, in this case, my friend did not actually recommend the video. I see this on Facebook when friends “like” certain brand posts and they try to get others to click on them for that reason. Why would someone try to garner views so sneakily? Perhaps getting lots of views will equate to advertising revenue based upon number of views. Underhanded indeed!

Check your Facebook app settings:

Follow the quick steps below to remove apps you don’t need and to edit privacy settings within apps you can’t do without.

I. Click on the down arrow on the right corner of your Facebook Home Page (Number 1) then click on the settings. (2)

Get to your Facebook Settings

Get into your Facebook settings

II. Click on “Apps” on the left side of the screen.

II. Click "Apps" to get to your app settings

II. Click “Apps” to get to your app settings

III. Go through all of your apps and remove any you don’t need. You can also edit each app individually and in some cases, you may be able to pick and choose the privacy settings without completely deleting them. Notice that two separate apps were associated with the video. I removed both.

I removed both YouTube apps

I removed both YouTube apps and a few others along the way too

I deleted the app completely and checked the box to remove any of its posts at the same time.

III. I deleted both YouTube apps and checked the box to simultaneously remove all of its posts

As long as I was in there, I reviewed every app and deleted a few that I must have inadvertently given permission to at some time. One in particular, iPhoto, bothered me immensely when I read all the permissions it had (see below). No sense in me summarizing what iPhoto “needs” and what iPhoto “can do” but please take a moment to read the permissions because I was dismayed by the extensive and invasive list. (Read my messages?Access my private data anytime? WOW! Not okay!) Notice iPhoto last helped itself to my data on March 5th.

iPhoto seems to want everything from me except my first born son!

iPhoto seems to want everything from me except my first born son!

Lastly, I’ve noticed Huffington Post also tries to force readers into giving up private information by requiring account verification and connection to a Facebook account in order to comment. (see below) I refrain from commenting as a result.

Huffington Post Account Verification is annoying

“Verify your account” in order to comment on Huffington Post


Huffington Post's Facebook verification

Huffington Post’s verification means you must connect comments to a Facebook account.

As long as many of us continue to give up our privacy for the reward or convenience of using apps, this unethical practice will continue. I caution you to avoid giving apps permission to post on your behalf and I hope you will spread the word so others don’t do it either. Social media is supposed to be honest and transparent, but apps posting as if they’re us and apps invading our privacy by needlessly obtaining data that is none of their business does not fit that bill.

Until next time,… Stay Cyber Safe!

4 replies
  1. Christina Simon
    Christina Simon says:

    This is so helpful. As somebody who uses social media a lot and blogs, I didn’t pay much attention to the apps issue until I read this post. I have stopped giving permission to access my information. I’m so tired of having to fight to protect my online privacy!

    • Hayley Kaplan
      Hayley Kaplan says:

      Glad it was helpful, Christina. By the way, you can take away permission from apps you’ve given access to and you can also change settings on some of them without removing them, depending upon your needs and depending upon the app.


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