Popular Travel Apps Allegedly Shared User Data with Facebook

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A new report from London-based watchdog group Privacy International claims that several popular travel apps, including Kayak and TripAdvisor, are sharing user information with Facebook without consent.

The Boston Globe reported the researchers tested more than 30 popular Android smartphone apps and determined that about 20 of them, including Skyscanner, Yelp and others, shared user information with the social network the moment they were launched even if the user didn’t have a Facebook account.

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Privacy International said that Facebook would receive a unique code to identify the specific phone that was running the app and that, after collecting data for months or years, it could gain insights into the specific user’s travel habits.

The Kayak app reportedly shared users’ travel dates, flight and destination search history, cabin class and whether they were traveling with children.

“For most people it’ll come as a big surprise that an app that doesn’t have anything to do with Facebook is sending your data to Facebook,” Privacy International researcher Frederike Kaltheuner told The Globe. “It’s definitely a violation of the spirit of the law,” she added, referring to a new European Union law requiring companies to ask permission before sharing a user’s data with third parties.

“The technical issues raised by Privacy International are extremely complex and we respectfully consider the statements they have made to be somewhat oversimplified,” TripAdvisor said in a response to the report. The company also promised to discuss the issue with the watchdog group.

Facebook also responded to the report by shifting responsibility to the app developers.

“Developers can choose to collect app events automatically, to not collect them at all, or to delay collecting them until consent is obtained, depending on their particular circumstances,” the company said in a statement via The Globe. “We also require developers to ensure they have an appropriate legal basis to collect and process users’ information.”

Kaltheuner admitted that “we obviously don’t know what Facebook is doing with the data” and added that the group plans to run the same test with Apple iPhone apps.

The report comes just a few months after TripAdvisor announced changes to its app and website.

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