Apps Can Track You After You Uninstall Them

If you thought to delete an app meant that was the last you’d ever see of it, think again. Developers have figured out a way to determine which users have deleted an app and swiftly serve them up a bevvy of ads in a bid to get them to return. A variety of firms have signed up as customers of these app tracking companies, which include Adjust, AppsFlyer, MoEngage, Localytics and CleverTap, among others, according to Bloomberg. App developers can discern whether or not the user has uninstalled their software by utilising silent push notifications. Silent push notifications aren’t a new tool. Many apps use them to perform tasks in the background when the user isn’t directly engaging with the app. For example, developers might send notifications to an installed app on a user’s phone to update content inside the app, such as refreshing an email inbox. When a user has removed the app from their phone, the developer won’t receive a pingback from the device when they attempt to deliver a silent push notification.

Thanks to technology developed by those app tracking companies, developers can add those changes to the file linked to the mobile device’s unique advertising ID, marking it as uninstalled, Bloomberg noted. From there, this gives them the tools to be able to track the device owner wherever they go and serve up targeted advertisements beckoning them to re-download the app. It’s possible that the trackers violate Apple and Google’s policies for iOS and Android, though neither firm responded to Bloomberg’s request for comment. ‘It’s just generally sketchy to track people around the internet after they’ve opted out of using your product,’ Alex Austin, CEO of Branch Metrics Inc., told Bloomberg. Some app developers say the uninstall tracking features are used to improve their software and rid it of common bugs. However, it seems unlikely that many users would deem it fair that an app is allowed to track their devices after they’ve uninstalled it.

Apple has created some tools to limit advertisers from being able to track users. For example, users can anonymise their device’s unique advertising ID by turning on ‘Limit Ad Tracking.’ This can be done by going to Settings, then Privacy and navigating to the ‘Advertising’ section. From there, users can swipe to turn on ‘Limit Ad Tracking.’ This makes it so that advertisers see your unique identifier as a string of zeroes, safeguarding your identity from trackers.


Apple’s new tool, called ‘intelligent tracking prevention’ in the latest version of Safari, gives users greater options to limit how they’re being tracked from site to site. It stops social media ‘Like or ‘Share’ buttons and comment widgets from tracking users without their permission using things called ‘cookies.’ The tool also presents ‘simplified system information’ when users browse the web. This specifically goes after the practice of ‘browser fingerprinting’, which is when sites can discern that a device belongs to a particular user based on your computer plugins or system configurations. The updates are due to arrive in the upcoming MacOS Mojave and iOS 12 software, both of which are slated for release to the public later this year.

Credit: Annie Palmer for Daily Mail, 22 October 2018.