Lockdown is an open source and on-device firewall with the ability to block trackers on your Apple … [+]
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In an era of mass data collection by tech giants such as Facebook and Google, it helps to be informed. Many companies are less than transparent about what they do with people’s data, leaving it down to the user to protect their own privacy.
Apple has made progress in increasing its users’ privacy and security in iOS 13, which gives you more control over the data apps are able to collect. However, even if you lock down your permissions, it’s still possible for apps to track you as you browse.
Enter Lockdown, an iPhone and now Mac app founded by two former Apple engineers Johnny Lin and Rahul Dewan. Launched last July, its users are growing fast: 100,000 people use the app and Lockdown has blocked a whopping 1 billion trackers.
What is Lockdown?
Lockdown’s firewall includes a block log showing who is tracking you.
Lockdown is an open source and on-device firewall with the ability to block trackers. It uses Apple’s VPN set up to function, but it is not a VPN itself and won’t obscure your IP address.
I tried Lockdown on my iPhone over a period of three weeks and have to say I was impressed. The VPN was pretty quick and I didn’t notice a lag. In order to put the firewall aspect to the test, I also reinstalled the Facebook app I had deleted long ago. After all, Facebook is already a known offender, right?
Where do the trackers come from?
But the trackers originate not just from the Facebook and Google apps; they are embedded inside other apps you use every day, as well as the websites you visit on Apple Safari and other browsers.
“They silently collect data on what you’re looking at, your actions–every swipe, tap, and button click–your location, and more,” Johnny Lin, cofounder and CTO at Lockdown told me.
This happens even if the app isn’t active in the foreground, and when you’re not using your phone.
“When this data is collected, it’s sent out to advertisers, data brokers, and analytics companies,” Lin says. “By collecting this data on individuals from different sources, these companies build super-specific ‘shadow’ profiles of each individual.”
The profiles contain what you like and dislike, as well as frankly creepy details such as what time you wake up, who you’re connected to and in what way, where you live and the places you go, your diet, and even extremely sensitive health data. “Those are the tracking attempts that you see being blocked in the block log,” Lin tells me.
Breaking down my block log
A set of logs sent to Lockdown for analysis.
I asked Lin to break down my block log and this is what he told me:
- doubleclick.net is advertising company owned by Google. Aside from Facebook, according to Lin, this is likely the largest source of Behavioral Retargeting, which “follows you around the web with its massive ad network.”
- connect.facebook.net is Facebook’s infamous tracking platform that collects profiles on billions of users using their activity on apps and sites, even if they don’t use Facebook and aren’t logged into Facebook, Lin says.
- app-measurement.com is a tracking tool used by a company called Firebase, which was acquired by Google. “It was reverse-engineered to find a surprising amount of private data being sent,” Lin tells me.
That’s just a portion of my Block Log from 3:38PM to 3:54PM on one day.
Trackers on your iPhone: Why you should care
Knowing just how much I am being tracked every day on my phone is certainly an incentive to continue using the app. But I care about my privacy, and you should too.
On an individual level, everyone has things they want to keep private, Lin points out. “Users currently have no idea what they’re sharing, who they’re sharing it with, and how it’s shared. We tell our devices things we wouldn’t tell our closest friends and family, so why should the data and behaviors on them be available to people and companies we’ve never met?”
Even if you don’t care about privacy at all, trackers affect your phone’s performance: “Having dozens of trackers constantly phoning home results in performance issues like draining your battery, racking up data usage, and causing slowdowns,” Lin points out.
Lin says Lockdown cares about transparency–which is why the app is 100% open source. “Anyone can see what it’s doing, and just as importantly, what it’s not doing.”
Trust is of course important, and as an added bonus Lockdown is free and easy to use. I’d certainly recommend downloading the app on your iPhone so you can see the sheer amount of trackers for yourself.