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Are Apps Tracking You Even After You Uninstall Them?

photo of apps on a cell phone
(Image via Pixabay)

More companies are using ‘uninstall tracking.’

Many app developers now track users even after users have uninstalled their apps, and the tracking allows companies to continue to serve targeted ads. Bloomberg first reported on this new phenomenon of “uninstall tracking.” With uninstall tracking you are never completely free from unwanted mobile apps, because the owner companies can still monitor you around the web. 

A new industry of companies offer uninstall tracking as part of larger app development services. The companies claim the tracking allows app developers to measure how customers react to app updates; however, tracking a person after they have uninstalled your app could be seen as an invasion of privacy.

Privacy rights advocates criticize uninstall tracking, saying companies are not sincere when they offer people opt-out choices. Many do not even provide privacy choices with their apps, and they force users to accept that their data could be used for unknown internet experiences.

“Most tech companies are not giving people nuanced privacy choices, if they give them choices at all,” Jeremy Gillula, tech policy director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Bloomberg.

Some of the companies that offer uninstall tracking to app developers include:

  • Adjust
  • AppsFlyer
  • MoEngage
  • Localytics
  • CleverTap and more.

According to Bloomberg, many ad developers and top business organizations use the uninstall tracking services of these companies, including T-Mobile US, Spotify, Yelp and Bloomberg LP, plus others.

Tracking Users Violates Apple and Google Policies

As Bloomberg explained, uninstall tracking tools use push notifications to achieve their purposes on Apple and Google devices. App developers can send out silent push notifications. Normally, installed apps can always respond to silent alerts from developers confirming they are still in use without the users’ knowledge. But when an app fails to respond to silent push notifications, then the uninstall tracking software knows the app is uninstalled and logs the changes. Once an app is uninstalled, companies can send you ads to try to encourage you to reinstall their app.

Using push notifications to track and serve ads violates Google and Apple’s policies which prohibit app developers from using push notifications to build advertising audiences, but Google and Apple have yet to crack down on the uninstall trackers

“As an app developer, I would expect to be able to know how many people have uninstalled an app,” said Gillula to Bloomberg. “I would not say that, as an app developer, you have a right to know exactly who installed and uninstalled your app.”

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