We’ve all been there. You’re searching for a pair o shoes or some earphones and you start to see that same product’s ad everywhere now, on Facebook, YouTube. But ever wondered how these apps know what you are looking to buy? How do these apps know what you have been searching for lately?

This is possible due to online targeted advertisements which makes marketing more personalized. There are special algorithms that look at the websites you have visited and the time you spent there and then over time predict your preferences.

So how these targeted ads work?  Well these personalized ads are a result of cookies. Cookies are text files in your browser that track information you’ve searched.

Thousands of popular apps from the Google Play Store are able to bypass permissions to collect user data, according to the non-profit research centre International Computer Science Institute, which partners with University of California, Berkeley. Researchers found roughly 60 Android apps, which have been downloaded millions of times, are already doing this. Many others are built with code that could allow them to do the same.

You might have seen various apps which come pre-installed nowadays in your phone. Researchers at IMDEA Networks Institute, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Stony Brook University, and ICSI scanned the firmware of more than 2,700 consenting Android users around the world, creating a dataset of 82,501 pre-installed Android apps. So, what kind of data do these apps collect?

The apps usually harvest the geolocation information, contacts, phone call metadata and personal email. Some apps might even monitor your activity and all this data is sent directly to the advertising companies. These apps are able to perform such activities due to the custom permission that is granted to them. The researcher’s analysis suggests that many of these apps may be using custom permissions like these to harvest and exchange information as part of pre-defined data exchange agreements between companies.

So next time while you install any app just look at the permissions it is asking for. A camera app or photo editing app would work even without the permission to access your contacts. Give the apps permission to only access those things that makes sense. You can also choose the opt-out using “opt-out cookies” that are stored in your browser with your preferences. With this, that site won’t be able to serve you targeted ads using your cookie data, but you will still see ads.  So always be aware of what you install and what all access you give to any app as in this time where we are so much dependent on technology, your privacy is of the utmost value.

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