Apps that claim to provide kids’ safety one way or another can be a blessing for parents. Yet, this blessing can backfire in an ugly way when those apps turn out to use and sell the information they collected about your kids to whoever wants to buy.
This can very well resume the freshly disclosed story around Life360 app. The Markup publication provided valuable insights after thorough research.
Let’s dig deeper into the troubling kids’ data selling business of Life360 and how you can fight off from privacy-intrusive apps.
Life360’s Scheme of Selling Location Data
Life360 is a family safety phone app that tracks kids’ whereabouts in real time. Providing a sense of security for parents, but in many cases, the feeling of constant surveillance for kids, the app sparked several controversies. Still, it managed to stay one of the most popular safety apps out there as 33 million people worldwide use it.
With the latest revelation, privacy-oriented parents may want to reconsider using this app. The Markup uncovered that Life360 has been selling data about kids’ movements and location to plenty of data brokers. The process of selling data didn’t end here since data brokers sell data for profit, so kids’ data has been an ongoing trading scheme.
Life360 founder and CEO Chris Hulls argued that selling location data was the trade-off for the app’s free services. Sold data included:
- location sharing
- location ETAs (estimated time of arrival)
- family driving reports
- two days of location history
- battery monitoring.
Apart from admitting to receiving raw location data from Life360, Cuebiq has also publicly disclosed that it collaborates with CDC (US’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention) in tracking human “mobility trends” related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, X-Mode has had its share of collaborating with another public institution, selling location data to the US Department of Defense.
Raw location data represents pure location information that hasn’t gone through any processing stage. Used for market research, apps and companies can integrate it into any business system and convert it in many different ways.
The Sketchy Fine Print
Here comes the interesting part! You can disable the sale of location data from the privacy settings, but you won’t find this clearly stated anywhere.
When it comes to app permissions, Life360 asks for location data all the time due to its basic features of tracking kids’ movements in real time. As a result, the app is pointless and simply doesn’t work unless this permission is turned on.
After The Markup’s request to comment on the revelations, the company’s representatives tried to emphasize the good sides of their app. They mentioned the app’s emergency safety features such as an SOS button and vehicle crash detection that helped save children’s lives. Yet, they failed to mention any potentially harmful consequences of buying and selling location data.
Life360 CEO stated the app de-identifies sold data, which means removing usernames, emails, phone numbers, and other types of identifiable user information before the data is shared with Life360’s customers. However, this step doesn’t necessarily offer user privacy since research showed that anyone can easily link ‘anonymized’ location data with the people from whom it came.
Guard Yourself Against Privacy-Invasive Apps
It’s an already known fact that today’s digital universe is by no means private. Websites, apps, or online services take advantage of any occasion to track and capture user data. Sadly, particularly apps founders and creators seem to be in a state of oblivion when it comes to privacy by design principles.
Still, you can do a few things to boost your online privacy.
Always check the privacy settings of apps
The next essential and logical step after installing an app on your device is to look at the privacy settings. From location tracking, Bluetooth, contacts, microphone, or photos, you should only allow an app to access what’s strictly necessary for that app to function. Alternatively, you can even choose to disable everything whenever you don’t use that app.
Minimize your footprint with a VPN
In fairness, a VPN app won’t help you hide from mobile apps with location tracking enabled. A VPN helps you avoid being tracked online and this way considerably reduce the risk of exposing your personal information.
Location tracking apps may still figure out your physical location, but you put a stop to these apps and any other to follow your digital tracks or decode what you do online. In this sense, a VPN helps you reduce your digital footprint that’s shared and sold between marketers and data brokers.
Did you ever use Life360 app or any other app that was reported to sell user data?
Let me know in the comments section below.