You know all that data your smartphone is sharing? It doesn't really serve a purpose to begin with

best unlimited data plan man holding smartphone
It’s already been established that your smartphone is probably sharing an alarming amount of personal information with various third party sites. So well established, that we seem to more or less brush it off, assuming that this data sharing is just a necessary evil. As it turns out, it’s not. According to new research from MIT, “much of the data transferred to and from the 500 most popular free applications for Google Android mobile phones makes little or no difference to the user’s experience.” That’s right; that data that’s being handed around willy nilly (often unbeknownst to you) often serves little to no purpose.

Noting that half of the data communicated between applications and third parties “cannot be attributed to analytics,” experts say that the main issue at hand is that users are kept largely in the dark about what their personal information is used for. “There might be a very good reason for this covert communication,” said Julia Rubin, a postdoc in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), who led the recent study. “We are not trying to say that it has to be eliminated. We’re just saying the user needs to be informed.”

In conducting their study, the MIT team examined 500 of the most popular apps on the Google Play store, and found that of the top 20, 62.7 percent of the data communication could be considered “covert” (or superfluous). And when these communications were completely shut down, there was “no major impact on the apps’ performance.”

So why have these channels open in the first place? Omer Tripp, the technical lead on mobile security and privacy at IBM’s T. J. Watson Research Center, has some ideas of his own, namely that this data sharing is proactively guarding against potential network outages.

“You may imagine that the application may want to be more resilient and go on functioning without reporting a problem,” he said. “Which, when you think about it, is an interesting opportunity for optimization.” If the user has no Internet connectivity, which can occur when abroad, or is limited by data, anything that keeping important apps running smoothly is a good thing.

So don’t be too upset about all this covert communication. But you may want to start asking a few more questions about what’s going on behind the scenes.

Product Review

What do you do with 187 megapixels? The Lumix S1R is glorious overkill

The Lumix S1R is one of the most capable cameras ever made, from its robust build to extensive feature set. But its key feature, a 187MP high resolution mode, is something few customers will have use for.
Computing

Sending SMS messages from your PC is easier than you might think

Texting is a fact of life, but what to do when you're in the middle of something on your laptop or just don't have your phone handy? Here's how to send a text message from a computer, whether you prefer to use an email client or Windows 10.
Gaming

How do Nintendo Switch, Xbox One X compare to each other? We find out

The Nintendo Switch is innovative enough to stand apart from traditional consoles, but could it become your primary gaming system? How does the Switch stack up against the Xbox One?
Computing

After fourth attack, hacker puts personal records of 26M people up for sale

A serial hacker going by the name of Gnosticplayers is selling the personal data of 26 million people who have been using the services of six different companies from across the world.
Mobile

HMD Global admits Nokia 7 Plus handsets sent user data to China

Nokia could be in some hot water. According to recent reports, Nokia 7 models may be secretly sending data to China without the user knowing about it. Nokia says that the issue was a software bug and that it has been fixed.
Mobile

Here are the best iPad Pro keyboard cases to pick up with your new tablet

The iPad Pro range can double as laptops, but they do need proper keyboards to fill in effectively. Thankfully, there are loads to choose from and we rounded up the best iPad Pro keyboard cases right here.
Product Review

The new iPad Mini isn’t a beauty, but it performs like a beast

Apple’s new iPad Mini has beastly performance, fluid iOS 12 software, and good battery life. It also looks like it came straight out of 2015, because the design hasn’t been changed. Here's our review of Apple’s 7.9-inch tablet.
Mobile

24 must-have apps for rooted Android phones and tablets

Rooting your Android device opens up a world of possibilities, along with a few apps. Here are 24 of our favorites, so you can make the most of your rooted device and unleash the true power of Android.
Mobile

Wring the most out of iOS with the best commands for Siri

You may not know all the things you can say to Siri -- after all, Apple never released an official list of commands for its virtual assistant. Thankfully, we've compiled a list of the best Siri commands to help you out.
Computing

Breeze through security with these checkpoint-friendly laptop bags

Getting through airport security is a drag, but your laptop bag shouldn’t be. Thankfully, these checkpoint-friendly laptop bags will get you and your gear to your destination with ease.
Mobile

Flex your thumbs (and your brain) with these fun texting games

Gaming consoles keep getting more advanced, but you can still have fun with the good old Latin alphabet. Here are our picks for the best texting games, so you can make the most fun out of that limited data plan or basic cell phone.
Wearables

Alpina makes its AlpinerX smartwatch even more attractive with new colors

Alpina has introduced four new colors to its AlpinerX smartwatch range, breaking the usually sporty watch out into a more everyday casual design, and given the tech a slight makeover too.
Mobile

New gold finish makes Frederique Constant’s hybrid smartwatch flashier than ever

Frederique Constant has found considerable success with its luxury hybrid smartwatch, the Hybrid Manufacture, and has launched several new color schemes to help bring it even more attention.
Wearables

Tag Heuer’s Golf Edition smartwatch is a lot more than just a flash of new color

Tag Heuer's Golf Edition Connected Modular 45 smartwatch has a lot more going for it than just a flashy new color scheme. From the titanium body and black PVD coating to the new Golf app, this is a true special edition.