A deep dive into app permissions and privacy this summer.
Any seasoned traveler will know just how just how many single-use apps are downloaded over the course of an average vacation. These days, everything from watching movies on the plane to checking into your hotel or accessing your tickets to a theme park requires a download of some type. What might surprise you, however, is that many of those travel apps that you downloaded and forgot about are still grabbing data from your device long after you arrive back home.
To save you the pain of finding out your data has been sold to a vendor or lost in a breach, we’ve compiled this guide to some of the most popular travel apps, what kind of data they collect, and how to mitigate any potential security risks and privacy concerns.
Currently the #1 travel app in the iOS app store, Airbnb also tops the charts in possible privacy concerns. In order to use their platform, Airbnb requires a photo of a government-issued ID or passport, which is fairly uncommon among similar services. Their terms and conditions also require you to consent to a possible background check, which they save on their servers.
Once you’re in, they automatically have permissions to your log IP address, precise location data from your device’s GPS, and all the device information they can get their hands on. On top of that, if you link accounts such as your Google or Facebook, the app also has access to your friends list and profile information.
Luckily, you can opt out of quite a bit of this. If you go into the app settings, you can change the permissions so that the location access is set to “While Using” or “Only While Using the App” instead of “Always.” Likewise, there’s no requirement to link any of your social media, so you can avoid that whole headache by logging in with just your email.
Finally, you can get around their IP logging by installing a mobile VPN. Unfortunately, there’s no way avoid their ID verification or background check policies, but at least those are somewhat justifiable information for a house renting service to keep.
Expedia is another popular travel app for booking flights, hotels, and rental cars. However, it also could be a bit better with its data collection and privacy practices. The app requests permissions to access quite a few of your phone’s features, including location, camera, contacts, and storage.
When an app requests this much access to your device, sometimes your best bet is just to use the website instead. While the web version is still likely to grab things like your location, it can only take the data while the webpage is open, and it won’t be able to access your phone’s contacts or storage at all. Expedia’s website is also very mobile-friendly, meaning you’ll get basically the same experience, but with a bit more privacy.
Maps (Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze, etc.)
Maps are an essential tool for travelers, but they also come with their own set of privacy considerations. As you could probably guess, just about every map app will save your location information, search queries, and sometimes even your travel history.
To protect your privacy when using map apps, you can take a few steps. First, review the app’s permissions and ensure that location access is set to “While Using” or “Only While Using the App” instead of “Always.” This limits the app’s access to your location when it’s actively being used. Second, consider clearing your search and location history within the app’s settings. This helps prevent the app from retaining a record of your past activities.
If you want to take your privacy a step further, you can explore alternative map apps that prioritize privacy. Some apps, like DuckDuckGo’s Privacy Browser and Maps.me, offer map services while collecting as little data as possible.
Don’t see an app you’re looking for on this list?
Don’t even stress! Most travel apps follow a similar system, and you should be able get as much privacy as you can as long as you:
- Opt out of everything you can
- Limit the app’s use in areas where you can’t opt out
- Delete the app when you’re done