Shopping Apps & Data Privacy

July 26, 2023 by
Mark Nash

Online shopping has become a regular activity for many people and only continues to grow in popularity. It's convenient, easy, and allows people to buy items from the comfort of their homes. But the rise of online shopping has also brought a justified rise in concerns about privacy and security. Not all shopping apps are created equally, and people can often get excited and install an app without checking privacy practices. Apps frequently collect more data from your smartphone than you realize.

Shady Data Collection Practices from Popular Shopping App SHEIN

Recently, security experts found a popular shopping app SHEIN spying on users' copy-and-paste activity. This means that if the user copied and pasted sensitive information, the app would have access to it, including things like passwords or credit card numbers. But it doesn't stop there, as SHEIN was also caught tracking users' keystrokes, screenshots, GPS location, and data from device sensors, including the accelerometer and gyroscope. This means that the app was able to track users' movements as well as collect information about how they were using their device. The app's developers claimed that the data collection was for "optimizing user experience," a very vague and frequently used explanation that's a favorite of app developers looking to avoid providing any helpful answers. The developers also stated that the collected data was only used for internal purposes, but privacy experts find this to be insufficient justification, and it only takes one look at the numerous stories of data leaks to see why.

Temu Data Collection Practices Questioned

Of course, this isn't the first time people have caught a popular app grabbing personal data without users' knowledge, and it certainly won't be the last. Since the shopping app Temu appeared in a Superbowl ad in 2023, it has been swelling in popularity, but Temu is another shopping app with questionable data collection practices. Some of the data that Temu collects includes:

  • Your name, address, phone number
  • Details you enter, like birthday, photo, and social profiles
  • Your phone's operating system and version
  • Your IPS address and GPS location (if enabled)
  • Your browsing data

So, what can you do to protect your privacy when using online shopping apps? Read on for a few tips.

Tips to Protect Your Privacy When Using Shopping Apps

Know What You're Getting Into (Read the Privacy Policy)

Before downloading an app, make sure to read its privacy policy. This will give you an idea of what data the app takes and how it's used. Yes, it's annoying to stop and read a long privacy policy when you just want to use an app, but if you don't, you could end up sharing a lot more than you realize. You can try searching keywords like "collect" and "your data" to save time by jumping to data collection details. If you do this before downloading, you may change your mind after learning how much data the app collects from you and decide it isn't worth it.

Turn Off Sharing Features

Turn off any data-sharing features you don't need in your phone's settings, such as location services. Many smartphones allow you to choose which apps you do or don't want to use specific data-sharing services with. Explore both your phone settings and the app's settings to restrict data sharing as much as possible.

Remove Apps You Don't Use

If you're not using the app regularly, remove it from your phone. Having unused apps on your phone can pose significant privacy and security risk. Even if they're not actively in use, those apps can and will still collect data, even your activity in other apps.

Research Apps Before You Download

It's easy to get caught up in a fad. You might hear your friend talk about a hot new app and want to check it out, but it pays to research before you download it. Look up the app first and check for details regarding its security and data collection policies. Inform yourself first before downloading an app that might be compromising your device data and activity.

Shop on a Website Instead

You can limit the dangerous data collection of shopping apps by using a website instead. Most legitimate companies have an official website where you can buy the same things as you can buy using the app.