Is Tinder or Fitbit using your personal data? Online tool shows you how to ask
Fitness trackers, from left, Basis Peak, Adidas Fit Smart, Fitbit Charge, Sony SmartBand, and Jawbone Move, are posed for a photo next to an iPhone, in New York on Dec. 15, 2014. (AP / Bebeto Matthews)
Karolyn Coorsh , CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, June 22, 2016 11:59AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 22, 2016 3:21PM EDT
It’s a common question in today’s digital age: How much of your personal information is your Tinder app or Fitbit logging?
More importantly, how are the companies behind those apps using your data?
A new online privacy tool called Access My Info is designed to help consumers find those answers easily.
A revamped version of Access My Info, which launched Wednesday in Canada, helps consumers find out what companies and governments know about you and how they share that information.
Consumers fill out a form on the Access My Info website, and the tool helps them craft a custom-made letter that poses questions about how a dating app or fitness tracker collects and uses your data.
Users may tap on the app they want to request information from, such as Jawbone or eHarmony, and a letter tailored to that company is generated by Access My Info’s system.
For instance, a template letter to Tinder asks the company to provide information on geolocation data and personal and lifestyle information they store, as well as IP address logs associated with the user and their devices.
Users then have the option to send the letter via email or postal mail.
The letters were written by policy experts at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, which operates a Telecommunications Transparency Project. The initiative looks at how telecommunications data is monitored and collected for commercial and intelligence purposes.
Andrew Hilts, executive director of Open Effect, one of the groups involved in creating the tool, said Access to Info empowers consumers to exercise their legal right to understand what data is available to the companies when users sign up to use their products, and whether that information is being shared.
“These (app) policies and permissions give a lot of latitude to companies to collect data and use it for unclear purposes,” Hilts told CTVNews.ca. “And so we hope that the tool can help restore some of the balance of power there and give citizens the ability to better understand what’s actually being collected.”
By law, Canadians can request complete records of their personal information held by service providers, but Hilts said consumers don’t always know what questions to ask.
Hilts said he hopes Access My Info will help consumers make informed choices, and help service providers determine whether their own policies are in line with Canada’s privacy laws.
CTV technology analyst Carmi Levy says a tool such as Access My Info is “long overdue” and called it a “welcome new resource” for Canadians to regain control of their personal information.
“Technology has been racing ahead so quickly and with it, Canadians’ control of their online privacy,” Levy told CTVNews.ca. “And so the need for something like this, has been growing exponentially.”
Levy said fitness apps’ recent rise in popularity, for example, has significantly increased the potential for so-called data leakage.
“In many cases we don’t even realize that information about us is being shared with third parties, it’s almost happening right underneath our noses,” Levy said, adding information can be “compromised in many different forms, even through that seemingly unassuming-looking fitness band that you wear on your wrist.”
Levy said in some cases, the companies that are selling the apps and services may be “blindly” acting without realizing that they are not complying with privacy or confidentiality laws.
“So what this does is it … helps industries raise their game and learn more about what they should and should not be doing,” Levy said.
Access My Info is funded by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority.
CIRA spokesperson David Fowler said it’s important that people are more “digitally literate” and protected when they go online.
“Just as we should do periodic checks of our own credit scores to ensure that our financial house is in order, it’s equally, if not more, important to know what the companies we do business with are doing with the information we give them,” Fowler said in a statement.