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Pinch Media Responds To "Apps Phoning Home" Controversy

August 18, 2009


Yesterday Pinch Media's mobile analytics came under fire thanks to a blog post published by the iPhone Dev-Team.  The gist of it was that some apps that use Pinch Media's mobile analytics, a tool used by developers to track user data to help improve apps and revenue, unnecessarily tracks a users' location -- along with other general data -- and sends it back to a server.  The data is  anonymous and ends up getting aggregated, but many users still showed some concern.  Pinch Media has decided to respond with a fairly lengthy blog post explaining what data is collected and how it is used. Since Pinch Media's response is so long, we will break it down to make this as painless as possible.  Feel free to check out the response in its entirety on Pinch Media's blog. Pinch Media starts the post off by addressing the difference between spyware and analytics.
Spyware and analytics are quite distinct - spyware is software that tracks personally-identifiable information with a malicious or deceptive intent, while analytics tracks anonymous information for benign, useful purposes. Pinch Media’s services are the latter - nothing personally-identifying is ever tracked.
Here is a list of the data that Pinch Media is collecting:
  • a hardware identifier not connectable to any personal information
  • the model of your phone (3G, 3GS, etc.) and operating system (2.2, 3.0, 3.0.1, etc.)
  • the application’s name and version
  • the result of a check to see if the device has been jailbroken
  • the result of a check to see if the application’s been stolen and the developer hasn’t been paid
  • the length of time the application was run
  • if the user explicitly agrees to share it, the user’s location
  • if the application uses Facebook Connect, the gender & age of the user
To be clear, none of this information is able to identify an individual.  Also, the data is converted to aggregated reports as quickly as possible.  None of it ends up being user-specific.  It is simply used to help developers improve their apps to gain more revenue. As for the consent to gather this data, apparently it is part of the iTunes EULA, the same one you agree to before downloading and purchasing apps.  Pinch Media goes on to say that they would rather have an opt-out ability for users who wish not to share this information, but this simply isn't provided by Apple. So does this mean that all analytics tools are perfectly fine?  Well, not exactly.  The difficultly is that there really is no good way to know which apps are collecting what data.  It isn't just Pinch Media collecting this data, there are many other companies doing the same thing or worse. If you are really concerned you can check out I-Phone-Home, which is a website that attempts to discover and list what apps "phone home" and what data is being collected.  Or you could just use your iPhone in Airplane Mode whenever you launch a questionable app, but that just seems like a bit much. What do you think now that Pinch Media has had a chance to tell their side of the story?  Have they eased your fears?

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