Did the stars tell you how they use your personal data?

This is an illustration showing a horoscope on a phone screen. There is a lock on the side of the phone to show privacy.
Illustration by Jessalyn George

Privacy concerns with Horoscope apps

Your horoscope reading of the day: Do you think before sharing your information?

One thing the sun, moon and stars failed to mention was that all of the information we share with our horoscope apps may not be as secure as we think. 

Technology has allowed for quick responses of applications and fast sharing of information, however, many people forget to question where the information we share is really going. 

Horoscope apps such as Co–Star and The Pattern require your date of birth, birth time, location, and sometimes an email or phone number in order to generate personalized daily horoscope readings and generate birth charts. Co-Star in particular even requires the tracking of your IP address

https://twitter.com/odiousfagguette/status/1329893895463907331

With the desire to view one’s “personalized horoscope,” many may forget the potential threats of uploading sensitive information online.

These apps have privacy policies that state that while your information is not sold to companies, there are third parties who have access to it. 

According to a University of Oxford study on security and privacy within apps  allows companies to identify users and track their behaviours across multiple digital services.” 

Ryerson Folio reached out to The Pattern, who declined to comment on who exactly these third parties are. However, they reiterated that all the information collected is necessary in order to generate one’s personal pattern.

“The Pattern does not collect any information from users except what is required to generate your personal patterns and provide you the opportunity to have a unique user handle (this does not have to be your name),” the company wrote in an emailed statement to Folio.

Co-Star and Daily Horoscope App did not respond to Ryerson Folio’s request for comment in time for publication. 

The Pattern’s privacy policies also stated that users living in California may have the right to access personal data collected by the company, how they have used and disclosed personal information as well as the right to delete personal information. 

 However, users outside of California do not have the same data privacy policies.

“The law is also specific to California residents only, however The Pattern has taken steps to ensure all users are protected equally and personal information is not sold or shared with third parties,” said The Pattern.

The company also added that “If your birth info was deleted from our servers, we would not be able to provide you any content.”

While The Pattern stated they can ensure their users that their personal information is secure, some people say that privacy will always be an issue when it comes to sharing information online.

“There’s no more privacy when it comes to technology. Everything nowadays is tracked, known and out to the public,” said Sebastian Romero, computer systems technician. 

Craig Silverman, media editor for BuzzFeed News, said that Canadians in particular shouldn’t assume that their privacy is massively invaded. 

“Canada does have some reasonably strong privacy laws,” he said. “It’s not like the United States where you can pay to get a detailed report on a person and where they’ve lived.”

Lauren Genga, second-year creative advertising student at Seneca College, said that she doesn’t read privacy policies. 

“To be honest, most of the time I really don’t pay attention to privacy policies with apps. It depends mostly on what the app is about. I find most of the time I’m really busy so I don’t bother reading the privacy policies.”

Silverman said, “I think the average person isn’t really aware of the ways that their personal information is being captured, stored, monetized, traded, and abused. And so when they see an app, or another kind of service that seems to offer them something they want, they’re pretty happy to hand over their information in return for getting something for free.”

He identified how many apps bank on the fact that users don’t read their policies, and write them in a way that makes it difficult for users to understand what’s going on. 

“One of the big red flags in a privacy policy is that often they will say … ‘We don’t sell or share your data.’ But then if you keep reading, what they say is that there are circumstances where they will share your data, or even sell your data,” said Silverman. 

Whether you’re looking at your horoscope or inputting information in order to play some online game, Silverman suggests that users read privacy policies. Otherwise, the best way to determine whether you should share your information or not should depends on how much an app asks for and the legitimacy of the app itself.

“Sometimes the privacy policy has a very general thing, like where it refers to third parties, certain third parties that [they] deal with, may share your data with,” said Silverman. “And if it’s a really vague language like that, then you really have no assurance about who these third parties are or aren’t and what the rules are.”

Read reviews, look up the company name and even see how long the app has been available for. While app stores have certain policies to protect users’ privacy, users still hold accountability for how much personal information they choose to share, and with whom.

Whether you’re looking at your horoscope or inputting information in order to play some online game, people should start at least skimming through the privacy policies of the apps they’ve installed and look for any red flags.  

There are many alternatives to these apps, including websites like Cafe Astrology and Astrology.

Cafe Astrology allows users to input the information of their choosing, unlike horoscope apps where the user won’t be able to receive their reading unless all the data is inputted. However, Cafe Astrology offers readings that are similar to those of horoscope apps.

Katherine Creighton-Ivimey, second-year criminology student at Ryerson University, said she finds Cafe Astrology works better for her.

“I find it to be more accurate and descriptive. They also show three types of astrology, so it is interesting to see,” she said.

Another option is to follow a number of Twitter users that post daily or weekly readings for all the signs. This way you can interact with other people with interests in their horoscopes and get other peoples perspectives on the readings. 

Plus, Twitter has tons of horoscope memes when you’re in need of a good laugh. 

Twitter user @Rude_Astrology tweets out brutally honest readings daily for all signs of the zodiac. 

Horoscopes are incredibly interesting, but it’s still important to remember to take precautions in this digital age. They can tell us a lot about ourselves, but make sure you’re managing how much your horoscopes know about you.

By Ayleen Karamat & Madison Schuliakewich