The App Trap: Is Newman Mail Collecting Data For Targeted Ads?

Email wonks rejoiced this week when Essential announced it is reviving Newton Mail, the defunct email app it acquired last year.

Then Jared Newman threw a damper on it. In an article on Fast Company, Newman writes that Newton Mail has a disturbing new privacy policy.

Unlike the old policy, which promised that there would be no targeted ads, “the new one gives Newton latitude to show targeted ads and build a detailed profile of your online activity,” Newman charges.

He adds: “It also has an unusual clause about collecting data from the people you email.”

When asked whether Newton would use data on users to target ads, an Essential spokesperson told Newman that there are “no plans to do so.” But Newman finds that only minor comfort — he would prefer the answer to be a straight no.

Of course, this is only one part of a larger issue: The privacy trap embedded in many apps that could lead to legal trouble here and in Europe under GDPR. 



For example, Moneycontrol News and other news channels reported this week that “Apple blocked Facebook and Google from running their internal iOS applications after the two technology giants were found to be flouting privacy norms.”

To what end? “Facebook was reportedly tracking iPhone usage data of teenagers through its Facebook Research app, while Google was misusing iOS certificates and inviting its users to download an app called Screenwise Meter, which is not on the Apple store,” the article continues.

Then there’s this problem, reported by TechCrunch: That software offered by Glassbox is being used to conduct in-depth analytics on screen captures 

“Many major companies, like Air Canada, Hollister and Expedia, are recording every tap and swipe you make on their iPhone apps,” TechCrunch alleges. In most cases you won’t even realize it. And they don’t need to ask for permission.”

Finally, the Weather Channel (TWC) was slapped with a lawsuit by the Los Angeles city attorney for collecting geolocation data on Weather Channel App users for ad targeting, MediaPost’s Wendy Davis reported in January.  

IBM subsidiary TWC markets the Weather Channel App as [t]he “world’s most downloaded app, with approximately 45 million users monthly,” states the complaint on file with the Superior Court of California in Los Angeles 

“Unfortunately, TWC take advantage of its app’s widespread popularity by using it a an intrusive tool to mine users’ private geolocation data, which TWC then sends to IBM affiliates and other third parties for advertising and other commercial purposes unrelated to either weather or the WeatherChannel App’s services,” it continues. 

In addition to data about the state, city or zip code, the app “tracks users ‘movements in minute detail, even when users are not actively using it,” the complaint alleges.

Ultimately, the geolocation data can be analyzed to determine “users’ daily habits, consumer preferences, and even their identities,” it continues, quoting an expose in The New York Times.

These offenses are not specifically tied to email. But they could be as brands use the data to send personalized messages.  

It’s a given that personally identifiable information is collected by apps, bringing together “the shadow you and the real you,” to steal a phrase from the privacy expert Martin Abrams.

That’s the real privacy issue.


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