It’s no secret that even on iOS, apps can collect your data. One way they do this is by using Background App Refresh (via The Washington Post).

Background Data Collection

Partnering with Disconnect, a company that offers privacy services like a VPN, Geoffrey Fowler found out what kind of data apps collected from his iPhone.

Screenshots of background app refresh

They include such data like:

  • Phone number
  • Location
  • Email address

Your iPhone doesn’t sleep. During Mr. Fowler’s testing, he found over a dozen marketing companies, research firms, and others collected data during the night.

On a recent Monday night, a dozen marketing companies, research firms and other personal data guzzlers got reports from my iPhone. At 11:43 p.m., a company called Amplitude learned my phone number, email and exact location. At 3:58 a.m., another called Appboy got a digital fingerprint of my phone. At 6:25 a.m., a tracker called Demdex received a way to identify my phone and sent back a list of other trackers to pair up with.

Some of these apps included Yelp (which claimed it was a bug), Microsoft’s OneDrive, Intuit’s Mint, Nike, Spotify, The Weather Channel, and ironically even The Washington Post’s app. It doesn’t just happen during the night, either. Over a week they found 5,400 trackers on the iPhone, mostly in apps. Over a month, if the same amount of tracking stayed the same, the data sent would’ve been about 1.5 GB.

The biggest problem with app trackers is the lack of transparency. The privacy policy might mention an umbrella phrase like, “We use analytics.” Unlike in the browser, you can’t see the trackers or block them unless you use a tool like a VPN.

You can find the setting for Background App Refresh by going to Settings > General > Background App Refresh. This won’t completely stop the trackers, but they won’t be able to work in the background anymore. They will only work when you actively use the app.

Further Reading:

[GDPR: Nearly 90,000 Data Breach Notifications in First Year]

[Teen Who Hacked Apple Wanted Job There]

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Turn Background App refresh to WiFi only; or select by App;
Privacy > Check Location Services setting and Share My Location;
Privacy >Analytics > turn off iPhone Analytics
Privacy>Advertising> turn on Limit Ad Tracking
Safari>Privacy& Security > Check your options
Safari>Advanced>Website Data

The list is endless – does anyone know how to remove Cookies on an iPhone without clearing all the other website data?


Just back from an overseas trip, where Data wasn’t covered in that country, in the space of three days, my phone chomped through several paid for Data packages totalling over 500MB – I checked every app and turned off Mobile Data for almost every single one and I already had a lot of Privacy options enabled. If I’d not been using an iPhone I dread to think how you could ever control what your device was sending. Doing app updates and refreshes in the background without explicit permission is THEFT, because they are stealing data I’ve paid for. I feel… Read more »