Thursday, January 4, 2024

Among entertainment apps, YouTube collects the most data, while Spotify shares the most with third parties

In a revealing study of 100 popular apps, Surfshark's research highlights entertainment apps, particularly Spotify and SoundCloud, share data with third parties the most, while YouTube collects significant amounts of user data. Out of the 10 analyzed entertainment apps, almost half track some of the data points collected across platforms. Research is aided by a free App privacy checker tool where users can select the specific apps they have on their phone and receive a report on the extent of data collection.

“Analyzing 100 popular apps on the App Store, we’ve found a concerning trend: nearly 20% of collected data is used for tracking. Such tracked data can be shared with third-party advertisers or data brokers, who use it to deliver personalized ads targeting the users, or aid companies in market research,” says Agneska Sablovskaja, Lead Researcher at Surfshark. “Understanding an app’s privacy policy is crucial for safeguarding digital autonomy.”

Entertainment apps collect an average number of data points

On average, travel and mobility apps collect 15 out of 32 possible data points. That is the same as the average: 15 collected data points across all 100 examined apps. Moreover, these apps link 94% of collected data points to the user’s identity. Also, 4 out of 10 such apps use collected data points to track users across third-party platforms (Spotify, Soundcloud, Audible, and Wattpad).

YouTube could be named the most data-hungry app within the entertainment apps category, collecting 25 out of 32 data points respectively, and linking all data points to the user's identity, although they don’t use data to track their users across third-party advertising networks.

Spotify and SoundCloud are apps that share the most data points with third parties. 6 data points collected by Spotify are used to track the user, like email address, phone number, product interaction, and advertising data. Soundcloud is 2nd when it comes to user tracking, tracking 5 data points across third-party platforms. Its competitor, Amazon Music, tracks 0 data points out of 16 collected.

Out of the 10 analyzed travel and mobility apps, Libby collects the least data points (3) and doesn’t track users across third-party advertising platforms. 10 popular analyzed travel and mobility apps were YouTube, Spotify, Amazon Music, SoundCloud, Shazam, Audible, Amazon Kindle, Goodreads, Wattpad, and Libby.

Around half of the 100 analyzed apps collect your search history and precise location

1523 data points are collected across 100 of the most popular apps. Statistically speaking, that's an average of 15 unique data points per app out of the 32 unique data points defined by Apple. Around 90% of the apps collect usage, diagnostic, and identifier data such as product interaction, user ID, device ID, crash, and performance data. Most are essential for their app functionality.

Two-thirds of the apps collect your name and coarse location, and nearly half collect your precise location. Coarse location is a more general estimation of where you are, while precise location is more detailed and accurate. Over a third of the apps collect your contacts, and a fifth collect your emails or text messages and browsing history.

Facebook and Instagram are the two most privacy-invasive apps. Both apps collect all 32 data points defined by Apple and are the only two to do so. Signal is also the only social media and messaging app to make the top 10 most privacy-sensitive list. It is the second least data-hungry app, collecting just 1 data point (phone number) that is not linked to you or used to track you.

Before downloading apps, it is recommended to check the developer's reputation and data retention policies and pay attention to constant permission requests to access the contact list, camera, storage, location, and microphone, and limit the app's access to information only when the app is in use.


We analyzed a total of 100 apps across 10 app categories. The apps for each category were selected from articles that appeared at the top of search engine result pages for "the most popular appCategoryX apps" keyword. The App Store lists 32 unique data points that can be collected across 12 unique data point categories. We analyzed the data set according to the three layers of collected data points: unique data points collected, the number of data that’s linked to the user, and data that’s used to track the user: For the complete research material behind this study, visit here.

Linking is when a service provider associates the collected data with the user’s identity. As per Apple, “data collected from an app is often linked to the user’s identity unless specific privacy protections are put in place before collection to de-identify or anonymize it.” Also, “personal information” or “personal data,” as defined in relevant privacy laws, is usually linked to the user’s identity by default.

Tracking means connecting or associating data gathered from the app about a specific user or device (like a user ID or device ID) with information from sources outside the said app (such as a third-party advertising network). Tracking is used mainly for targeted advertising or advertising measuring purposes. Also, data could be shared with data brokers (companies that collect information). They create detailed data profiles based on demographics, behavior patterns, and interests and then sell the info to various companies and institutions. Collected data may be used for advertising, market research, financial risk assessment, and more.

App Privacy Checker is a free tool developed by Surfshark’s Research Hub to aid this research. Users can select which apps they use and get to know exactly how much data they are giving away, which can be found here. The tool can also be embedded onto your website:

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