Instagram, Facebook, Uber Eats and more: The most invasive apps on iOS

Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn collect the most personal data at 79%, 57%, and 50% respectively.
22 March 2021

The three most invasive apps on iOS. (Photo by Amy Osborne / AFP)

  • A report found that more than half of the top 100 apps share your data with third parties.
  • The top two apps were Instagram, which shared 79% of personal data collected, and Facebook, which shares 57% of personal data collected. 
  • LinkedIn and Uber Eats, both share 50% of personal data with third parties.

We have accepted the cold hard truth in today’s digitized world, there is no real way to guarantee privacy for most of us.  Collecting, storing, and sharing personal data has become ubiquitous with the age of information. Using platforms and letting down our digital guard means we allow companies to know where we are, what we like, and who we’re interacting with. Really, it comes as no news that there are a host of invasive mobile apps regardless of the operating system — Android or iOS.

Apple came up with a solution for this issue with the launch of Privacy Nutrition Labels in iOS 14.3, upping the stakes in the app privacy sphere. Apple Privacy Nutrition Labels are just what they sound like: pages that tell you exactly what data of yours the app can access, how they access it, and what it’s used for — with around 34 different standardized labels developers are required to fill out. It is the sole responsibility of the developer to self-report privacy information, which has led to some uncertainty in the integrity of these labels as Apple continues to test them out. 

Cloud storage company pCloud decided to take a deeper look into the mobile apps iOS users interact with the most to determine which ones share the most personal data. By using the new Apple privacy labels featured in the App Store, they identified which apps share the most private data with third parties and which gather the most for their own benefits, to find the most invasive overall.

Invasive iOS apps

Firstly, it is important to note that any information you agree to be gathered by an app when signing up can be analyzed for their benefit and even shared down the line. A user agrees to this by accepting the app’s terms and conditions. While this data is willingly passed on, you might be interested to know exactly what it is apps are after. Everything from your browsing history, to your location, your banking details, your contact details, and your fitness levels can be valuable for apps to store, use, or sell on. While they all have a responsibility to keep this data safe, that doesn’t always mean it stays in their hands.

Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn share the most data with third parties

Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn share the most data with third parties. Source: pCloud

The report found that more than half, or 52% of iOS apps collect data and share it with third parties. The top two apps were Instagram, which shared 79% of personal data collected with third parties, and Facebook, which shares 57%. They were followed by LinkedIn and Uber Eats, who both share 50%. When it comes to food apps, food delivery apps Grubhub and Uber Eats amongst the worst apps for collecting your data for their internal marketing purposes. Among the food-related platforms, Just Eat, Grubhub and My McDonald’s were the only three that the study found gave away limited personal information, using user data for delivery location tracking and their own marketing needs. 

Instagram, with over one billion monthly active users, shares everything including purchasing information, personal data, and browsing history. If you’re wondering why your feeds are cluttered with promoted posts of things that you might actually want to buy — well there’s a reason for that! However, in the study Instagram wasn’t particularly unique in this practice – the pCloud report also found that 80% of apps use personal data to market their own products in-app and outside it.

In terms of the overall tracking and sharing of users’ information, the popular auction app Ebay came in at 5th place, by tracking and selling 40% of the personal data possible. Shopping giant Amazon came surprisingly low in the list, with minimal tracking for their own advertising, and no data passed on to third parties. Reddit, a platform celebrated for giving users a safe place for freedom of speech, came in 19th place, though sharing users’ location and usage data with third parties, as well as tracking user content and purchases for its own marketing purposes.

Non-invasive iOS apps

Apps like Skype, Microsoft Teams, and Google Classroom collect no data at all and top the list alongside Clubhouse, Netflix, and Signal.  At the other end of the scale to Facebook and Instagram, upcoming social media stars BIGO LIVE and Likke are amongst the top 20 safest apps to use, collecting just 2% of users’ personal data.

The price tech giants pay for transparent Apple tracking

In short, while app tracking means greater privacy for Apple users, social media giants like Facebook and Google would experience impaired advertising efficiency. Unless huge numbers of consumers opt in to tracking, ads will no longer be as personalizable to our unique history, interests, and activity as they could in the past. Mobile marketing professionals reckon Google could lose USS$17 billion in revenue over the next 12 months, while Facebook has US$8 billion at risk. Mobile advertising expert Eric Seufert has estimated the privacy cost of Apple’s change. He estimates some people will opt into tracking: likely around 20%. 

“I believe that Apple’s upcoming iOS privacy changes will significantly harm Facebook’s revenue, causing a roughly 7% revenue impairment in Q2 2021 in the base case scenario,” Seufert writes. “Subsequent quarters will also face revenue losses.” While modeling out a best-case scenario results in only a 2% revenue impairment and a worst-case shows almost 14% impairment, he suggests that it’s entirely possible that Google and Facebook won’t be able to recover a significant amount of efficiency in ad targeting.

Say a 10% impairment with Google’s revenue averaging at US$43 billion and Facebook US$20 billion over the last four quarters, both could lose a cumulative US$25 billion over the next 12 months. To mitigate those losses? Seufert suggests two options; more people could opt into tracking by Facebook and Google, or Google and Facebook (and other ad networks) could get much better at contextual targeting that does not require tracking people and devices around the internet.

Twitter too, in its fourth-quarter earnings results, believes that Apple’s upcoming App Tracking Transparency requirements will have a “modest impact” on its revenue. Even Snap execs said they expected the change to negatively impact the company’s ads business, presenting a “risk of interruption to demand” by advertisers.