What are some tips for mobile tracking
The information portal for safe cell phone use
Which modules does my app contain?
There are different services that tell you which tracker an app contains. Our tip is the Exodus Privacy platform, which displays its analysis results on a website and in an app. More than 60,000 Android apps from the Google Play Store and the F-Droid Store were checked for advertising networks and tracking modules (as of October 2020). Behind it is the non-profit organization of the same name based in France. She has been active since 2017 and advocates privacy online.
The database of the AppCensus research project, operated by the ICSI (International Computer Science Institute) in California and various partner organizations, also provides information on trackers in around 77,000 Android apps. The database is currently only accessible via the website.
Alternatively, the AppBrain Ad Detector from AppBrain would be recommended. Two former Google employees founded the company based in the Netherlands and Switzerland. They offer app developers tools, including usage statistics and a list of available modules and their distribution. The database can also be accessed via the AppBrain website.
Tip: Install from F-Droid
If you want to be on the safe side, use apps from the alternative “F-Droid” app store. Any advertising or analysis modules will either be completely removed from apps in this store or explicitly mentioned in the respective app description.
Tip: use ad blockers
There are apps that filter out advertisements from other apps. In principle, you will not find such ad blockers in the Play Store, as they violate Google's guidelines.
Probably the best and most up-to-date solution at the moment is the Blokada app, operated by volunteers led by the Polish developer Karol Gusak. The app is financed by donations and a paid VPN service, it is open source and available from F-Droid. More in our video: Blokada: Block Ads and Stop App Connections.
Another possibility is to spice up our recommended NetGuard firewall to an ad blocker. Detailed instructions can be found in this article by IT blogger Mike Kuketz, which is well worth reading. The developer of NetGuard also accepts donations.
Alternatively, two preconfigured web blockers are available with AdGuard and SRT AdVersary. However, AdGuard is chargeable and SRT AdVersary makes a fairly deep intervention in the system that not all apps play along.
Tip: give feedback
If you like an app and discover overlapping modules in it, write to support and point them out. Sometimes app providers don't even know exactly what they have integrated into their apps and are ready to replace the problematic elements - or to remedy the situation with a "clean" version.
Also track paid versions
You can often get rid of the tracker by using the paid version of the respective app. However, a study by the author showed that this does not always work: Around every fourth payment app still contains trackers, and every fifth advertising modules.
These apps need to be clean
In some areas, apps that are equipped with tracking modules are questionable at best. For example, what should you think of an app for privacy protection that comes with such additions? Examples of this would be the “Anti Adware” app or the McAfee “App Advisor”, each with the AdMob advertising module.
Such modules are an exclusion criterion in these areas:
- Apps to protect against malware: These should protect the user from attacks - and not install new gateways themselves. Both advertising and some analytics modules pose security risks, as studies show.
- Apps that encrypt information: For example encrypted messenger or password manager. Because modules have access to everything that the host app also has access to. And third parties should not have access to encrypted information or passwords.
- Apps for kids: Children should neither be tracked nor confronted with advertising that the younger ones in particular are not yet able to deal with competently.
- Apps with very personal information such as appointments, contacts, health data or financial entries.
- Apps that need root access: All modules are equipped with the same power as the app itself, so they have root access.
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