What Using a FREE App Really Means

By Emily Vindasius


As a 20-year-old college student, I grew up surrounded by technology. By the time I was in middle school, it seemed like everyone had an iPhone ? we were only 12 years old. Around that time, Instagram started, then came Snapchat, and then came apps that allowed people to connect with others and express themselves through social media. The most interesting part of all of these amazing apps that everyone loved to use, was that they were FREE.

As I am sure we all know, these free apps essentially make money by using our personal data. We have almost all had those times when we are talking about buying something and then go on Facebook and magically appears an ad for the item we were just talking about. We all know it happens, but most of the time we choose to ignore it, or at least I do.

For the past couple of months, I have been working as an intern at an app development company called Likeli. The app is currently in beta testing, which means it is constantly being tested and perfected so that it will pass the apple store requirements. When I first started working here, I had only assumed that this company’s app would be like every other app and just use people’s data to make money, but boy was I wrong.

The first thing I was wrong about is many app companies do not use your data to make money. For many apps that need to connect users, they have to use third-party software to do so. Instead of paying for the third party’s software, they give them access to their user’s data, so these app developers can use their services for free. Likeli decided to pay for these services. For a mere 12 cents a month per user, Likeli will pay their third parties for their services, but not give them access to their customers’ data.

So, when an app says they aren’t selling your data, they are right! They are just giving other third parties access to your data so they can sell it instead!

When developing an app, that app must have a privacy policy and terms and conditions. If you don’t know what those are, it is the things that we scroll to the bottom and accept without reading a single word. As an intern, I created and edited those policies specific for Likeli, and after reading over a few examples, I was shocked at how vague and intrusive the policies are.

To create the policies, I used a generator. And the generator essentially asked what we do without customer data. Based on what you click, the generator creates a policy that presents your company in the best light. It will say one thing, then say something completely different, making it extremely vague as to what the company is actually doing with your data.

At Likeli, they decided keeping their customer’s personal information private is the most important thing to them. Since I started working here, I realized just how many companies have access to my data and how a lot of my private information might not be private anymore. For example, with Instagram, when they ask to access your photos, they have access to ALL of your photos. If an app asks you to access your contacts, they have access to ALL of your contacts. The amount of data companies have of their customers goes on and on, and we don’t realize how bad it really is.

As customers of these apps, we need to be educated about what really happens with our personal information. So next time you download an app, read the privacy policy and educate yourself. See the truth that you are signing up for by using that app. As we head toward a future where technology will rule the world, we need to be smart and ensure that our private information remains private.