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Android and iOS apps can track users even after they’re uninstalled

ONE DAY WE’LL GET UP AND NOT HEAR news that something on our smartphone is tracking us; but that day isn’t today, as it’s been revealed that apps can track users even after they’ve been uninstalled.

That’s according to Bloomberg Businessweek, which has reported on the presence of “uninstall trackers” in some iOS and Android apps that can figure out when a person has deleted the apps and then enable their creators to pelt the ex-user with ads trying to tempt them back.

Bloomberg Businessweek noted that Adjust, AppsFlyer, MoEngage, Localytics, and CleverTap were some of the companies offering such trackers to the likes of T-Mobile in the US, Spotify Technology, and Yelp. The publication even noted its parent firm Bloomberg LP uses tech from Localytics.

It’s worth highlighting that Bloomberg Businessweek noted that uninstall trackers tend to be bundled with other developer tools, so it would appear that app developers can choose to use such tracking tools or ignore them.

Ehren Maedge, vice president for marketing and sales at MoEngage, told Bloomberg Businessweek that app developers need to make the choice whether or not to use the tools.

“The dialogue is between our customers and their end users,” he said. “If they violate users’ trust, it’s not going to go well for them.”

That all seems fair enough, and various tech has been used to allow for push notifications, which devs can use to essentially refresh app data without bothering users.

Such back and forth between apps and their developers allow for the exchange of data.

But, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, when an app doesn’t throw back a wave at the developer, it can be assumed it was uninstalled and the file associated with the device kept by the developers to enable app refreshes can then be used to identify the silent device and used to potentially throw adverts at it.

Using such tools to push silent notifications to build up advertising audiences is against Google’s and Apple’s privacy and advertising policies. So apps that use the uninstall tools with advertising in mind look to be skating on some mighty thin ice.

Uninstall apps can be used to help with app debugging and maintenance, but it looks like they have the potential to be abused. But thus far Google and Apple haven’t leaped into action to curtail the use of the tools; we suspect Tim Cook’s crew might do after Bloomberg Businessweek‘s report.

That being said Apple isn’t too happy with Bloomberg given the news outlet reported Cupertino had servers with Chinese spying chips on them, something Apple strongly denies. µ

Further reading

Source : Inquirer

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Founder and Editor-in-Chief of 'Professional Hackers India'. Technology Evangelist, Security Analyst, Cyber Security Expert, PHP Developer and Part time hacker.

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