Keeping User Data Secure on Smartphones and Their Apps

July 08, 2020

Amid growing trade tensions between the U.S. and China, security has become another piece the two large countries are in contention over. The news that TikTok is under investigation is another piece of fuel for the fire. TikTok, a social media platform that features short videos and is popular with teens, is owned by a Chinese corporation. According to a recent article from Reuters, TikTok is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Justice Department. The allegations are that the video platform failed to delete videos by users 13 years and under, as required by law. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested the company is sharing the data from users with the Chinese government.

However, TikTok is far from being the only app that collects user data and sells it or shares it, says John Davisson, counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. 

“I think TikTok's actions are alarming, and it is good that federal regulators are paying close attention to it,” Davisson said. “But it is ultimately one of many platforms that collect, and use, and analyze, and rely on, and profit off of personal data.”

In addition to social media platforms, ad networks are some of the biggest culprits of collecting data. Anyone who has searched for something online then seen it pop up in an ad on another page has some idea that this is the case.

So how do you help your customers protect their personal data? Here are some ideas and resources you can pass on.

Incognito Windows

Computers, phones and tablets have incognito window options for the most popular browsers. These windows allow users to browse the internet without their search history being used to target them for advertising. To figure out how to use an incognito window, search “incognito window” or “private browser” and the name of the browser (Firefox, Safari, Chrome, etc.)

Limit Location Data Sharing

Many phone manufacturers have settings within the phones that allow your location to be tracked for advertising based on your location. Generally default settings allow for tracking your usage and location for more targeted advertising. The good news is that you can change your settings to reduce the amount of data you share with advertisers and aggregators.

Check Permissions/Policies on New Apps

When downloading a new app, users should take the time to read the terms of use to see what kind of information they’re allowing the app to access. If the customer is ok with the user agreement in general, you can still encourage them to go through the settings of the app and turn off any optional data sharing.