Data Privacy Discussion

The popular apps spying on everything you do

Just how many permissions has anyone who has signed up to Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Instagram and Skype among many others given away? Clue: it's an awful lot more than you think.

Just how many permissions has anyone who has signed up to Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Instagram and Skype among many others given away? Clue: it’s an awful lot more than you think.

Smartphones, and the apps made for them, help us run our lives and businesses as smoothly as possible, often on the go.

But what exactly do these apps know about you, and what information have you unwittingly given away to them by clicking yes on their terms of service and privacy policies?

This infographic gives us some idea, (hi res version for detailed zooming here), setting out clearly just how many permissions anyone who has signed up to Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Instagram, Skype among many others has actually given away.

Reading from the inside out, you can see the app and what permissions it asks for, but where it gets interesting – and more than a little scary for anyone with concerns over data privacy and control – is the next layer, which sets out clearly what those permissions you blithely ticked actually mean.

So Facebook, for example, can read your text messages and see your call log – who you called, when you called them and how long the call lasted. That’s pretty sensitive information – and gives big clues to your life. It also knows your location at all times, in common with other apps such as Viber.

Many popular and common apps, such as Facebook, Instagram and Skype, use your camera and microphone to record audio and take pictures and video without asking you first. Twitter can only take pictures and video, not audio and Gmail doesn’t do this – but it can read and modify all your phone contacts. Still pretty scary on the privacy front – and not something that many users would dream they had given permission for.

Torn between the twin aims of developers wanting to get more permissions than they currently need to aid future development, and the willingness of consumers to trust popular sites have their best interests in mind, comes this boggling array of permissions granted to access all kinds of data.

Vladan Joler, of Serbian non-profit SHARE, who did the research and created this visualisation, found in the course of his research that users actively access about 27 apps on their smartphones every month, with non-reading of the Terms of Service and Privacy Policies a common and ongoing issue.

His analysis has shown that a Privacy Policy has an average length of 2.518 words and takes about 10 minutes to read, which means that a user needs to spend roughly 950 minutes (15,83 hours or 2 work days) in order to read the PP of the apps they have installed.

You get the picture – enlarge the hi-res version above to see what permissions YOU, exactly, have given to apps on YOUR phone. And then consider whether what you give away is truly worth what you gain.

But do remember as well that all apps are not created equal –, for example, does not see ANY of your data, which is transferred straight to and held on your computer for your use and convenience. We value your privacy and ability to own and control your own data – if only the same could be said of more companies.


  1. This is really interesting. My concern is that they use your data and what they know about you to influence your intentions. Which can be Very useful for advertisment corps. I mean, you’ve probably read the work Facebook has done in psychology on emotional contagion. Good news for the moment though – they tend to only collect data on mass through automated computer algorithms. Though the potential for abuse is omnipresent.

    Great article and thanks for the important information.

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