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While studying the Google Play data safety section, researchers at Incogni found that 55.2% of apps declare sharing user data. Among those, free apps share, on average, seven times as many data points as their paid counterparts.

Popular apps yielded similar results, sharing 6.15 times more data than less popular ones. The vast disparity between the data-sharing policies of paid and unpaid apps seems to confirm the common belief that consumers actually pay for free online services with their data.

Incogni’s researchers took a deep dive into the new Google Play data safety section, launched in July 2022, to shed more light on the data sharing and security practices of app developers. They found that shopping, business, and food and drink apps share the most data, on average, while social media and business apps collect the most data. 

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Some of the apps, such as Facebook, Messenger and Instagram, which collect the most personal information, declare sharing the least. However, Google’s definition of sharing does not include the transfer of data to a service provider, for legal reasons, or of anonymized data (which can be re-identified 99.98% of the time with enough data points). This means a lot more data might end up in transit than users are made aware of.

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The study also looked at how developers handle the transit of user data. They found that 4.9% of apps do not encrypt personal data in transit, through their own admission. More interestingly, less than half of the apps make any claims about encrypting data in transit, which could mean that the real percentage of apps that provide no encryption is much higher. 

Summed up, the results of Incogni’s report show strong evidence that far more data is “shared” than Google Play users may understand from the data safety section. 

Methodology

Incogni’s study was based on an analysis of the data safety sections of the top 500 free and 500 paid apps in the Google Play Store. 

Read the full report by Incogni.

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