When is a free product not free? When the business collects your personal data and sells it for huge profits.

Most people and businesses take personal privacy for granted. As fundamental to our lives as this privacy is, most tech companies are abusing your trust and taking away your rights by gathering your interactions on their tech platforms and selling every bit of information they can gather. This includes personal communications, purchase habits, the computer system that you are on, and the environment from which you are working.

Unfortunately, there’s a laundry list of companies putting Americans’ privacy at risk. Many of them, including Epic Games, Spotify and Match Group, have indicated their support for legislation that would change app store regulations, like the Open App Markets Act (OAMA). 

These changes would help increase these companies’ revenues while rolling back essential privacy and security protections. Consumers should be aware of the policy priorities of companies that are teetering on the edge of privacy abuse violations for monetary gain.

OAMA would do that by mandating the sideloading of apps, meaning companies wouldn’t have to make their apps available on an app store that monitors for cybersecurity concerns and establishes clear privacy standards for app developers. Companies would be able to use unsafe backchannels to require consumers to download their apps from the internet, sidestepping the privacy protections and rules app stores require.

Right now, millions of Americans can claim their part of one of the largest Federal Trade Commission settlements in history — a $520 million penalty levied against Epic Games by the FTC for illegally collecting children and teenagers’ private data. Privacy abuse violations are something all consumers should be wary of, especially with a situation like Epic Games, as the company was preying on the naivete of minors. And while the settlement for Epic Games users may have been historic, this incident wasn’t totally isolated.

Spotify, for example, has faced criticism for years over its data collection practices, and similar to Epic Games, the company has been subsequently hit with millions of dollars in fines. Still, Spotify continues to hoover troves of data from Americans without their consent, including location and device information, and users’ photos and media files. The data Spotify collects is then sold to advertisers who might, for example, bombard a user listening to breakup songs with ads for dating apps. The ethics here are questionable and a clear cause for concern when choosing a music streaming service.

Match Group has found itself facing similar concerns. One journalist found that Match Group had collected more than 800 pages of data from her phone, including text messages with matches she had messaged on dating apps. The company is facing a class-action lawsuit from consumers who claim their sensitive information had been illegally stolen.

Of course, these aren’t the only companies risking Americans’ privacy by engaging in controversial advertising practices.

Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, has come under fire repeatedly for deceiving users about their ability to control private data and mishandling sensitive information, and the company has explicitly attacked privacy protections that consumers value by arguing in regulatory filings that those protections “degrade the free, ad-supported app ecosystem by impairing developers’ ability to personalize ads and to measure ads’ effectiveness.”

Meta clearly prioritizes its ability to profit from ads over consumers’ privacy protections. In recent years, the company has faced dozens of lawsuits alleging privacy abuse and has been slapped with billions of dollars in fines for failing to meet basic privacy and transparency requirements.

There’s a simple reason companies with a history of controversial privacy practices support OAMA: the bill would boost their bottom lines. Spotify’s data sales model allows the company to report record-breaking earnings every year while disregarding consumer privacy. Match Group sees invasive data collection practices as a way to improve its product and grow the subscriber bases of its apps. And Epic Games uses the data it collects to fine-tune deceptive practices that trick users — often minors — into making costly in-game purchases. 

Even more troubling, while Epic claims it doesn’t sell data to American advertisers, the company is owned in part by Tencent, a major Chinese tech firm with ties to the Chinese Communist Party, bringing its trustworthiness into serious question. The fact is that OAMA would allow these companies to sidestep the guardrails put up by app stores that limit these shady activities.