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How To Protect Your Financial Information From ‘Data Hungry’ Apps You Use for Social Media, Shopping and More

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How many times a day do you pull out your phone and click on an app? Facebook? Your budgeting app? Twitter? Your credit card? More often than you realize.

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Americans spend just over four hours a day interacting with their apps on average. And while some could argue you’re wasting a lot of time, no one can argue that just by using your apps, companies are tapping into your personal and financial information.

In fact, cybersecurity company Surfshark identified 32 types of data that the Apple Store flags through its “nutrition label” initiative — this includes tracking your contact information, personal information, your location, your contacts, your browsing history and your purchases. Then, Surfshark reviewed the privacy details accompanying 200 apps in the Apple App Store to determine which apps were the most and least “data hungry,” as Surfshark labeled them. And how did the apps fare? Some tracked all 32 points; others tracked zero.

Each time you use one of these data-hungry apps, your private information can be exposed, including some financial information. Before downloading that app, you’ll want to review that same privacy information to determine what possible exposure you’re facing.

Start by taking a look at the most data-tracking apps in 10 categories and by learning an alternative for each.

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Messaging and Video Calls

Facebook Messenger was the biggest culprit in the Surfshark study as far as the messaging and video calls category, with all 32 data types collected. By contrast, Cisco Webex Meetings – a popular platform for work chats during the COVID-19 pandemic – has no data points. 

Facebook Messenger has about 1.3 billion users, and even CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted in a conference call that the company had a ways to go to make Messenger as safe as possible. He said the company was working toward end-to-end encryption but that there wasn’t a timeline to do so.

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Social Media

Facebook tops this category, too, with the collection of 32 data types, per Surfshark. An alternate is the startup Clubhouse, which collects 10 data points. 

Clubhouse bills itself as a place where everyone can “have access to meaningful conversations.” And those conversations should be as private as possible.

“Fraudsters occasionally prey on individuals via social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. Avoid accepting friend requests from strangers to safeguard your safety,” said Gerrid Smith, chief marketing officer at Joy Organics. “It’s simple to unfriend someone after accepting a request unintentionally; consider sifting through your connections at least once a year to eliminate anyone who is no longer familiar with you. Even with genuine pals, accounts can be compromised.”

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Personal Finance

Forbes recently named Mint as the best app for monitoring daily financial activity, but it didn’t get as high of marks from Surfshark. Mint collects data in 21 areas — tops in that area. With Mvelopes, which uses the traditional budgeting method of putting your money into “envelopes” via the app, the number is zero.

“Whenever you download a new app to your phone or tablet, particularly one that is related to shopping or financial management, you should first verify the program’s security protocols,” said Edward Mellett, the co-founder of WikiJob.co.uk, a website for job seekers in the financial industry. “The majority of banking and financial institutions’ apps feature sophisticated security systems that clients can simply access. If the security information is not readily available, or if you have any reservations about sharing personal information with the app, such as passwords, consider skipping the download.”

Related: Crypto Scammers Are Using Robocalls to Steal Funds, Wipe Out Accounts

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Food Delivery

During the pandemic, more and more of us turned to food delivery services, and chances are good advertisers now might know of your addiction to chicken wings or your preference for pizza topped with pineapple. Per Surfshark, Doordash and Caviar tap into 24 of our data types. With Postmates and ChowNow, it’s about half at 13.

Before choosing a delivery service, read through its privacy policy. Grubhub, for one, has an extensive policy for customers to review. It outlines just what information is collected and what the company does with it.

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Shopping

Amazon Shopping is the go-to for many of us – where else can you buy a baseball bat, dishware and a designer handbag all in one quick trip, after all — but it’s also a data hoarder, collecting information in 26 data areas. As an alternative, Surfshark recommends Etsy and Poshmark, with 12 data points. While they don’t offer as huge a selection as Amazon, those sites could be a safer alternative for some items.

Some sites, including Amazon, offer multifactor authentication, where once you sign in with your password, you will be sent a code to your cellphone for an extra layer of security. “You might think having a strong password is enough protection, but that isn’t true; these days, having a strong password is no longer enough to protect data from being stolen,” said Perry Zheng, an engineering manager at Lyft. “There are many hackers out there who are experts at stealing passwords. … This adds an extra layer of security for your data.”

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Payments Between Friends

Some people remember the days — not all that long ago — when sharing a dinner tab with a friend meant each person plopping cash on the table or one person paying the bill and the other giving the friend a check. Now? We can send money via an app while sitting at the table or en route home on public transportation. 

PayPal and Venmo are two popular ways to send money instantly, and they are the most obtrusive when it comes to data collection, too, with the apps scoring a 26 and 21, respectively on the Surfshark scale.

MoneyGram rates the best in the Surfshark study with just eight collection points, but before signing up, be sure to read the fine print regarding security and potential fees for use.

If you’re paying a bill or buying something online, stick with known vendors, said David Attard, a digital consultant and web designer at Collectiveray.com and a software industry veteran. “Avoid using payment apps from unknown developers. Only use apps like Google Pay or Apple Pay,” he said.

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Dating

We are familiar with some popular dating apps, such as Match.com and eharmony, because of their big advertising programs, but it turns out dating apps are pretty familiar with us, too. They aren’t the biggest offenders, though. Match.com collects 18 data points and eharmony 16, behind Badoo with 23 and Bumble with 22.

Before signing up for multiple dating apps, consider only picking one or two to limit how many apps have your data.

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Flights

You want the best price when it comes to buying a plane ticket, so chances are you probably hope around from site to site while researching your trip. You could start with an aggregator to see which airline offers the flight to fit your time schedule and your budget. Even if buy from the airline site, your search at the aggregator has left some data behind.

How much? Priceline collects data in 23 areas. Kayak and Momondo are attractive options with just 10 each, per Surfshark, so maybe look there first.

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Streaming

Looking for a free movie or some video content? The chances are you’ll wander over to YouTube, but do so knowing your data is being collected in 24 categories. Try instead Popcornflix to see which movies and TV shows are available to you. It’s a safer option with five data collection points, according to the Surfshark research. Even Netflix collects way less at 11.

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Pregnancy Tracker

Expecting a baby should be one of the most joyous times of your life — and one not filled with worry about protecting your data. Pregnancy trackers have become popular with expectant moms seeking answers or information, but they may not know how much info they are revealing.

Glow Nurture is a popular one, with 23,000 reviews in the app store, but it has 19 data trackers. By comparison, both Sprout and Baby Bump track two, with Hello Baby registering just one data tracker.

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