Report: iPhone Apps Don’t Always Stop Tracking When You Tell Them To

Is fingerprinting the new tracking?

The new line of iPhone 13's are displayed at the Fifth Avenue Apple Store during the launch of the phones on September 24, 2021 in New York City.
Getty Images

As smartphones get more sophisticated and people spend more time online, online privacy is a more and more significant issue by the day. That’s one reason why, for instance, both Apple and Google are working on revamping their privacy options, and why documentaries like The Social Dilemma have had such a positive reception.

The end result of this may well involve putting more time and effort into customizing privacy settings, whether that’s asking an app not to track you or going deeper into your phone’s developer mode. But there’s a catch to part of this — specifically, that some apps might not be entirely honest when they say that they’re not tracking you.

That’s the conclusion of a new investigation by The Washington Post. The Post and privacy software firm Lockdown looked into a feature that Apple implemented in April: offering users the opportunity to tell apps that they didn’t want those apps to track them. The trouble is, some of them did something that was, for all intents and purposes, tracking via a different name.

One example they cited was the game Subway Surfers. After asking not to be tracked, the investigation found that the game was still sending out information — including “your Internet address, your free storage, your current volume level (to 3 decimal points) and even your battery level (to 15 decimal points)” — to an advertising company.

The term for this is “fingerprinting,” and the investigation found several iPhone games doing exactly that. The Post brought the matter to Apple’s attention — but so far, these practices remain intact.

“If we discover that a developer is not honoring the user’s choice, we will work with the developer to address the issue, or they will be removed from the App Store,” Apple spokesperson Fred Sainz told the Post. The investigation turned up an alarming practice, and it’s not hard to see why many Americans are wary of the current state of online security.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.