Bitmoji was the number one most-downloaded app from Apple’s App Store in 2017. Millions of people have downloaded the app to create goofy, cute representations of themselves to share with friends and family.
But what information does Bitmoji collect? Who does the company share that information with? And why does Bitmoji need full keyboard access?
Bitmoji and Snapchat
First of all, I wasn’t aware that Bitmoji and Snapchat were made by the same company. Snap, Inc. owns both of these apps. Bitmoji was originally designed by a company called Bitstrips, and that company was acquired by Snap, Inc. That’s one of the reasons why they’re so easy to use together.
Is this a big issue? No. Just something I wasn’t aware of. And if you’re concerned about single companies collecting a lot of your data, it’s something worth noting.
Bitmoji’s Full Keyboard Access
This is something that worries many people. When you install Bitmoji, it asks for full keyboard access. Apple always gives you a warning when an app requests full keyboard access.
In short, this is because it’s possible that the developer of a third-party keyboard appcould be tracking everything you type. If they have full access to your keyboard app, they can do pretty much whatever they want with that app.
Does that mean they’re tracking everything you type? No. It just means that it’s a possibility. Still, it’s a pretty alarming possibility.
What does Bitmoji have to say about this?
“We ask for Full Access permission so that we can download your custom Bitmoji images from our servers. Bitmoji Keyboard can’t read or access anything you type using your iPhone keyboard or any other third-party keyboard.”
While you have to take their word for it, the fact that they unequivocally state that they’re not accessing anything you type is certainly reassuring. Because the Bitmoji keyboard isn’t a regular keyboard, they probably only have access to the Bitmojis you send, and not anything you type.
So in the end, this alarming notification is actually nothing to worry about.
Bitmoji’s Android Permissions
While the Full Access warning is all you’ll get on iOS, you can see more details of Bitmoji’s permissions on Android. They’re a bit surprising, as they include phone status and identity, a lot of storage access, and camera/microphone permissions as well.
It’s a little strange that Bitmoji is asking for permissions related to your calls and your microphone. It can look at your list of running apps too, though this could be because Bitmoji interacts with Snapchat and the Google Keyboard.
These permissions don’t send up any huge red flags, but some of them are a little suspect. In all likelihood, they exist to collect more information that can be turned into advertising money.
What Information Does Bitmoji Collect?
1. Information You Choose to Give
This is all the basic stuff that you given to Snap, Inc. when you use their services. Things like your name, email address, phone number, and date of birth.
It also includes the snaps you send through Snapchat, the details of your Bitmoji, and things like that. And it can include your credit card number if you buy anything through their services.
All of this is pretty standard and obvious.
2. Information When You Use Their Services
Snap, Inc. collects data on how you use their apps — again, standard for developers. The clothes you put on your Bitmoji, the Bitmojis you send most often, the filters you use on Snapchat, the ads you see, and things like that are all fair game.
So is information about your phone: the make and model, the operating system and version, the apps you’ve installed, your service provider, and so on. It also collects physical information from the gyroscope, accelerometer, and compass. Location information is also collected when you use their services (with your consent).
As you might expect, much of the information collected has to do with ads. Where you are, what you do with the apps, how long you look at certain ads, which ads you tap on, and so on.
And there are cookies, web beacons, storage, and similar tracking technologies that Snap, Inc. uses on their website.
3. Information From Third Parties
In addition to data from you, Snap, Inc. gets information from other places. They might combine your phone number from someone else’s phone with information they got from one of their affiliates to create a more complete profile. They also state that “We may also obtain information from our affiliates, or any other third-party sources, and combine that with the information we collect through our services.”
That’s pretty nebulous, and doesn’t give you a whole lot of idea what kind of information they’re getting from third parties or what they’re doing with it.
Does that make it nefarious? Probably not. But it’s not quite as straightforward an answer as they give to other questions.
What Happens to That Information?
Most of you information is used for two purposes: to improve the app and to target ads.
Improving the app might include things like seeing which Bitmoji are the most popular so they can design more that are similar. Or putting the most popular options at the top of the menus. Things like that.
Targeting ads, of course, is where Snap, Inc. earns their money. The more information they collect, the better they can target ads. That’s what free apps and services are all about. So that should come as no surprise. Snap, Inc. has a huge number of advertising and analytics partners, and they offer extremely detailed analytics to companies. (If you’re curious, check out Snapchat for Business.)
Snap, Inc. notes that information you provide could be going directly to a third party, and that they’re not responsible for what happens to your information once it’s passed on. They also make it clear that information collected by third-party companies from their apps could be combined with information gathered from other sources.
The vast majority of that type of information, though, is likely coming from Snapchat, not Bitmoji.
Is Bitmoji a Privacy Threat?
All of this sounds exactly like the permissions granted to any other app. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t privacy concerns. For example, Snap Map has caused a lot of consternation among privacy advocates for sharing people’s location without their knowledge.
Just because Bitmoji has pretty standard permissions and data-sharing agreements doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be on your toes when it comes to your privacy.
To be completely honest, I was expecting to find more evidence of nefarious Bitmoji information-mongering. A quick look at Bitmoji’s Android permissions raises a concern or two, but nothing major. The fact that it’s a messaging app means some of those permissions make sense, though it’s usually used simply as a keyboard.
And it’s obvious that Snap, Inc. is really big into advertising on the Snapchat platform. That’s no surprise. Bitmoji is only peripherally connected to Snapchat, but there’s a chance it’ll try to get you to sign up for the service. And once you’re there, the company will get a whole lot more data to sell to advertisers.
All in all, though — and I’m a little surprised to be saying this — Bitmoji seems pretty harmless from a privacy standpoint.
Were you one of the millions who downloaded Bitmoji this year? Did you give any thought to your security and privacy when you did? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Image Credit: ooGleb/Depositphotos