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Opt out of sending data from your smartphone to save money

While data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) might sound like buzzwords that don’t affect you easily, the way those technologies use data from your phone can cost you money. Opting out of sending data from your phone can improve your finances.

While data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) might sound like buzzwords that don’t affect you easily, the way those technologies use data from your phone can cost you money. Opting out of sending data from your phone can improve your finances. 

The issue starts with the data that is sent from your phone. While most of us do not watch how much data is going out of our phone or where it ends up, what is being sent and where it goes can be scary when you do look.

Much of the data on our phone, such as where you are and what applications you are using or what you buy, can seem innocuous.

If the data stayed on your phone, there would be few issues. However, more data than you think may be sent to companies that can use it to target you with offers and advertisements.

When a team of researchers at Northeastern University in the United States analysed 17,260 Android apps from Google Play, AppChina,, and Anzhi, for instance, they found “alarming privacy risks”.

Apps share images and videos in unexpected ways and without user knowledge or consent.

Moreover, they record and upload screenshots and videos of the screen without informing the user and without permission

As consulting giant McKinsey explains it, a variety of companies then use the data in advanced analytics to obtain a granular understanding of product preferences and purchasing behaviour.

The companies use that analysis to identify potential customers and send them sophisticated recommendations such as “shoppers like you bought this appliance” at key points along the decision journey.

That analysis can quadruple your purchases, compared to messages that are not highly personalised and targeted.

As one example, New York Times reporter Kashmir Hill found that an American company called Sift had about 400 pages of data on him, including an order for chicken tikka masala three years earlier.

Sift used it to create a secret credit score that companies can use to decide whether to give him priority treatment or consider him a fraud.


The power of ever-better technology and AI means that companies can scoop up data about you from apps on your phone and use it to target ads tailored to your individual preferences and behaviour.

They may send offers to encourage you to buy food at nearby restaurants based on what you ate before, for example, or to mention Passenger rather than Taylor Swift in ads for music streaming services based on the type of music you prefer.

When companies use that AI and data analytics to target you with ads, research shows that you will spend more.

Texas A&M University professor Venkatesh Shankar found that consumers who download an app from a retailer buy 21 per cent more often.

Even though they spend less for each purchase, that higher frequency means that they spend a total of 24 per cent more because of the targeted ads and rewards they received.    

Assistant Professor Su Jung Kim of Iowa State University similarly found that people who download a retailer’s app increase their spending by 19 per cent to 48 per cent.

Other studies also show that banks and retailers that use data analytics can increase consumer purchases by double-digit percentage points or more. 

Over the course of a year, you can easily end up spending hundreds of dollars more, simply because apps on your phone send data and companies use it.

More spending means less savings and lower investments, which can affect your financial life far into the future.


It is easier than you might think to opt out of sending data, regain your privacy and receive fewer ads, so that you spend less.

Apple and Android phones both have settings that are easy to use.

One step is to minimise ad tracking.

If you have an iPhone, go to “Settings”, then “Privacy”, then “Advertising” and then turn on “Limit Ad Tracking”.

Android phones have a similar setting.

Next, realise that your phone can track where you live, where you work, what you buy and everything in between. You can prevent the phone from tracking you.

For Android phones, for example, tap “Settings”, then “Location”, then “Google Location Settings”, and then turn off “Location Reporting” and “Location”.

If you have downloaded apps from retailers, consider whether to delete them or see if there is a way to turn advertising off. The ads from retailers encourage you to spend more.

Apps can help you limit tracking as well. give you links to opt out of pages for popular websites, albeit that it is US-focused, and Privacy Badger stops advertisers from tracking where you go and what pages you look at on the web. 

If you are using a browser on your phone, Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge have incognito and InPrivate modes you can use.

Firefox Focus blocks advertising, analytics and social trackers by default. It also erases passwords and browsing history after each session.

While those ads and deals you receive are becoming more personalised and can seem very attractive, they can easily lead you to spend more and save less. Even if the impact seems small, stopping those ads can make a big difference.

Related topics

data apps mobile phone savings money finance

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