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Do you know where your data’s going?

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Ten popular apps — including dating services Tinder, OkCupid and Grindr — are sharing people’s personal information with dozens of digital marketing and ad tech companies without consumers being aware, according to a new study. The only way for many users to protect their information, the report says, is for them to have never installed the apps at all. 

The study, released Tuesday by the Norwegian Consumer Council (Forbrukerradet), found that the apps, which also included period-tracking apps Clue and My Days, were collectively sharing user data with at least 135 advertising-related companies. The shared data included GPS locations and IP addresses, as well as personal details about gender, sexuality and political views, according to the study. 

In response to the study, a spokesperson for Clue said Monday that it doesn’t share users’ health or menstrual cycle data, and it doesn’t sell data to any third-party service, including advertisers. The company does share usage data with Braze, which it says is clearly outlined in its privacy policy, in order to “make improvements to the Clue app and its features.”

Match Group, which owns Tinder and OkCupid, said it uses third-party companies to assist with “technical operations and providing our overall services.”

“We only share the specific information deemed necessary to operate our platform, in line with the applicable laws including GDPR and CCPA, said a Match Group spokesperson on Monday, referring to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act. “All Match Group products obtain from these vendors strict contractual commitments that ensure confidentiality, security of users’ personal information and strictly prohibit commercialization of this data.”

In an email, My Days founder Christian Mueller said the app shares only anonymized location data with third-party companies to improve the user experience. Mueller added that users are clearly informed about the app’s practices when installing it, and that My Days’ policies are laid out in detail in a 305-page Terms and Transparency Policy as well as in a short summary in the app’s Privacy Policy.

Outfit7, which makes My Talking Tom 2, said its data collection, sharing and use practices are clearly explained in its online privacy policy. “An independent third party runs regular compliance monitoring of all tracking in our apps and we regularly monitor the collection of data by third-party ad providers to ensure and enforce compliance,” said a representative in an emailed statement. 

The other apps cited in the study — Grindr, Happn, Muslim: Qibla Finder, Perfect365 and Wave Keyboard — didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. 

“Every day, millions of Americans share their most intimate personal details on these apps, upload personal photos, track their periods and reveal their sexual and religious identities,” Burcu Kilic, of Public Citizen, said in a release. “But these apps and online services spy on people, collect vast amounts of personal data and share it with third parties without people’s knowledge.”

Public Citizen, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of California and nine other advocacy groups, has called on the US Federal Trade Commission, Congress and the attorneys general of three states to investigate the app companies’ data-sharing practices. 

The study also said the apps didn’t clearly inform users that data would be shared with third-party ad companies. Though some of the data-sharing is described in the apps’ privacy policies, the descriptions are long, complex and unlikely to be read by consumers, according to the study. The majority of the apps also didn’t offer options or settings to prevent or reduce the sharing of data with third-party companies. The NCC said this leaves most people with one option if they don’t want their data shared: Don’t install the apps at all. 

The NCC tweeted that it’ll file complaints against six companies based on its findings.  

CNET’s Stephen Shankland contributed to this report. 

Originally published Jan. 14, 12:20 p.m. PT.
Updates, 12:47 p.m.: Adds response from My Days app; 1:14 p.m.: Adds comment from Outfit7.

 

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