It turns out that despite disabling tracking on your iPhone, many apps can still be watching

Even if the user disables the tracking feature on an app, some apps will still spy on it. Several popular iOS apps have been examined in this regard, and the result is not very reassuring.

As part of Apple’s previously updated privacy policy, the iPhone now allows users to request an app without following them. Then apps won’t know what someone is doing in other apps or websites, let alone device features. It all sounds good, but the reality sometimes shows otherwise, according to a study by Lockdown researchers in San Francisco, who make privacy software, and The Washington Post.

Lockdown has tested popular apps on iPhones running the two latest operating systems, iOS 14.8 and iOS 15. They analyzed what personal information is available from the apps. It’s reassuring that as part of a technical change introduced with iOS 14.5, apps can no longer access the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) – a random identifier that Apple assigns to devices to track and identify user activity within apps and between apps. However, there is other information that can be used to identify a phone.

For example, even though a popular iOS game called Subway Surfers is banned from tracking, the app sends detailed data about the iPhone to Zboga-owned game company Chartboost, including the user’s IP address, accessible storage space, current volume level (three decimal places). Even the battery charge level (to 15 decimal places). Two other popular iPhone games ( Run Rich 3DStreamer Life!) revealed that he shared much-identifying information with advertising companies, even though the user had disabled tracking. Lockdown also found that two data trading companies, AppsFlyer and Kochava, have created settings that allow their customers to override user tracking settings.

It’s no coincidence that John Rock, a co-founder of Lockdown, a former iCloud engineer at Lockdown, puts it sharply in the case: “When it comes to shutting down third-party trackers, App Tracking Transparency is stupid. What’s worse if users are allowed to stop tracking, they will lock themselves into a false sense of security”.

Lockdown co-founder Johnny Lin investigates what happens after disables tracking in ten popular apps © Lockdown / Noah Hendrix.

Neither Lockdown nor the other privacy experts consulted by The Washington Post could say what happens to the data coming out of these apps, whether they were used to track users for targeted ads. Only application developers can explain what happens to the data.

In any case, the creator of Run Rich 3D did not answer any questions about this, Streamer Life! and its developer just said they complied with Apple’s privacy policy. Chartboost also stated only that it is “committed to protecting the privacy of end-users while providing the best possible experience for publishers to support their revenue from advertising.”

Overall, that investigation found that iPhone’s tracking protection is nowhere near as reliable as Apple’s ads indicate. “If we find that a developer is ignoring a user’s choice, we’ll work with the developer to resolve the issue, but if that doesn’t work, we’ll remove the app in question from the App Store,” an Apple spokesman said. The Washington Post has shared the findings with Apple and was told to scan for the developers involved. A few weeks have passed since then, and everything has remained the same.

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