If you haven’t heard the news yet, Facebook is buying Giphy for $400M. We don’t have to explain Facebook to you, but Giphy might be unfamiliar. It’s a gif communication platform that houses many of the gifs people send to each other via text messages, Twitter, and anywhere else, really.
Many mobile keyboard apps also integrate with Giphy so users can quickly send a gif in a message. Sounds harmless. Except, when it comes to privacy, it may not be.
If it’s on your phone, it’s tracking you
As OneZero reports, Giphy tracks searches, search data typed into Giphy, and tracks the gifs themselves across devices and the web, collecting sentiment data and data from device-level tracking IDs.
Now, before you stop using the service altogether, this level of tracking isn’t unique to Giphy. Unless specifically designed for privacy, nearly all apps, including keyboard apps, will generate tracking data to collect. Some of this collected data may be a function of the app (Fitbit, for example), some may be used to help the users (crash data that helps developers improve the app), and some data may be collected specifically to share with partners and/or sell it to advertisers.
Every company and app is different and it’s up to you to decide whether these kind of apps pose a privacy risk to you, if they’re relatively harmless, or if you’re willing to use an app despite the fact that it tracks you.
You may also decide to stop using an app if a company you don’t trust as much purchases it. Which brings us to Facebook.
What changes with Facebook’s acquisition
We don’t know exactly why or for what purposes Facebook acquired Giphy. But Giphy can theoretically provide Facebook with more granular data it may not have had access to before – data from messages as well as gif-based sentiment tracking and analysis.
Facebook will also be able to collect this data from non-Facebook users and from users who are not logged into Facebook. And because Giphy provides device-level data and tracking, it’s not hard to infer which users have Facebook profiles.
However, it’s not known what plans, if any, Facebook has for Giphy’s data. It may use it to further build out its advertising offerings or it may leave it in Giphy’s hands.
What are your options?
If the combination of Giphy and Facebook makes you nervous, you can take some actions to limit how much tracking and data both companies collect from you.
Use a Giphy alternative
If you’re really in need of a gif keyboard, you can use Tenor, a Giphy alternative. However, this app also collects your data so this option is really only helpful if you want a gif keyboard that’s disconnected from Facebook.
Use a privacy-focused browser
Signal is an end-to-end encrypted messaging app built with privacy in mind. They’ve specifically detailed how their app blocks Giphy’s data collection. In short, Giphy gets search data from Signal but can’t associate it with a user or device so any collected or shared search data can’t be tied back to you.
Reset your mobile advertising ID (often)
This is a good habit to get into. Your mobile advertising ID is a device-level identifier that apps use to track your device and associate it with collected data. This is found on both Android and Apple devices but they both offer the option to reset your ID, meaning any information from a previous device ID can’t be associated with the new one. Doing this will make it harder for Facebook (and other companies) to compile complete profiles based on your mobile device data.
Tracking is common but you have a choice
Not all tracking is done equally and when it comes to privacy, tracking can come in both harmful and harmless ways with a lot of gray area in the middle. If you want to limit how often you’re tracked and by different companies, consider limiting how many apps you allow on your device.
However, you may find the convenience of having Giphy or similar apps worth the small amount of tracking. If it’s a large concern, do your research (visit this site often), and take the appropriate action based on your personal privacy preferences.