A fertility app with over 500,000 users was recently discovered to have been sharing data from Android users with advertising companies in China without obtaining consent and without notice in their advertising policy.
Premom, a fertility app, is designed to help users get pregnant and collects, among other things, personal details about users’ sexual health, users location data, a log of other apps installed on their phones, device-level identifiers, and other unique identifiers that would allow them to track users across the internet, beyond the app itself.
The International Digital Accountability Council, a digital watchdog that monitors apps and reports on issues around user privacy, originally discovered this issue and sent letters to Google, the FTC, and the AG of Illinois. In the letters, you can see that the IDAC has named three different Chinese advertising companies and the information they were collecting directly via SDKs within the Premom app.
The data collected included location data and unique identifiers. In one company’s case, the method of data collection was obfuscated; the company intentionally tried to hide the fact that it was amassing all this user data.
The app was briefly pulled from the Google Play Store but is currently back up—the company has stated that it will no longer share data with one of the advertisers and will be limiting other third-party access if it doesn’t comply with their internal policies.
When it comes to shady moves made by companies, there’s not a lot you can do to prevent the privacy risk posed to you. We recommend you reset your mobile advertising ID often, which is a device-level identifier many apps collect and can use to track you and to leverage your device permissions and turn off location tracking unless it’s necessary.
If you’re willing to make the switch, you may also want to switch to an iPhone—this specific issue only happened to Premom Android users and Apple’s App Store may have stronger safeguards to protect against this kind of data collection.
Lastly, know that every app you download gives companies a chance to collect your data. It’s not just the app that now has access—nearly every app shares data with other companies, whether they’re advertisers, marketers, data aggregators, or analytic companies. Some of this sharing can be benign and some may be more nefarious.
It’s up to you to know the risk and be aware of what could go wrong when you install an app on your phone. If it’s worth it, go ahead and install it on your phone, otherwise, you may be better off without it.