All those pub apps you’ve downloaded are a privacy nightmare

It’s been a long 15 months and now people are heading back out into the world. Lots of people are understandably ready for a drink. Pub spending is up seven per cent compared to the equivalent week in 2019, according to data from Barclaycard. But the pub experience is a little different now. 
Rather than sidle up to the bar, you’re cemented to your seat. Table service is the new normal, at least until lockdown restrictions lift further. And small talk with the bar staff has been replaced with ordering through an app. Each pub, or chain, seems to have its own app that you need to download to book a table or make an order – and each of these collects information about you.
“When hospitality started to have an obligation to take contact details last year, there was no obvious privacy-preserving tool to do this with,” says Michael Veale, a lecturer in digital rights and regulations at University College London. “In many hospitality venues, they are still using the technology from the earlier part of the pandemic last year to fulfil orders and table service, which collect unnecessary information.”

So which apps collect what – and should you be worried?
Wetherspoon app
Wetherspoon’s order and pay app has existed since 2017, long before the pandemic, but has become more widely used to aid social distancing in pubs. It collects information including any forms you fill in through the app, such as your name, address, email address and phone number.

In order to make sure you’re ordering food and drinks from the right pub, it also uses GPS to track your location, and unusually can request access to location data when the app isn’t open. This practice “seems unnecessary,” says Konrad Kollnig of Oxford University, and the creator of the TrackerControl Slim app, which analyses how Android apps track and share data.

It gives information such as your email and PayPal username to third-party payment providers, and information about your device, such as the type of operating system. “Personal data provided when registering to use the App shall be retained until such time that the User requests that the Data Controller amend or remove the data,” the app’s privacy policy says.
The Android version of the app appears to have wider-ranging access permissions than the iOS version. On Android, it has the ability to read, modify and delete the contents of your USB storage, and take pictures and video from your camera.
Greene King app
The Greene King app can be used to find and book tables at the more than 1,600 Greene King pubs across the UK, as well as ordering and paying for food. The app’s privacy policy links on both the Apple and Google app stores is broken, but a company spokesperson said it would be fixed shortly. Its wider privacy policy, which covers everything from booking rooms and tables to playing pub poker, doesn’t appear to cover the app in detail except for a small section of a table.
There, the privacy policy says it collects users’ names, contact details, booking information, loyalty card info, transaction details, date of birth, email address, telephone number and payment details.
The Apple App Store says Greene King’s app tracks a lot of data from its users, including search history, device ID and how you interact with the app, alongside the usual name, address, email address and phone number gathered by apps. Like the Wetherspoons app, the Google Play Store contains more wider-ranging permissions than the Apple App Store: Greene King can read, modify and delete the contents of your USB storage, as well as take photos and videos.
Young’s On Tap app
Young’s On Tap, the app for the 200 Young’s pubs across London and the south west of England, adds the ability to split a bill with fellow drinkers in your party. The company’s privacy policy says “When you visit or use any of our Digital Applications, we automatically collect certain information from you,” including geolocation data, device type, access times, and the IP address from which you’re accessing the app.

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