Food delivery apps are gaining momentum during the pandemic, but they are hungry for your data


For almost two years now, food delivery apps have made our days in lockdown better. But there’s a price we are paying for their delicious food. And, it’s not just money. We’re paying with private data as well. 

Over the past two years, the pandemic turned the entire world upside down, placing all of us in a global lockdown experiment that changed everything. The pandemic changed how we socialize, work or study, purchase goods, and how we “eat out.”

This is where food delivery apps started to shine and gain momentum.

After just a few months spent locked inside their homes, everybody started missing a burger from their favourite restaurant, a delicious cake they didn’t cook, or a fresh beverage like they used to drink in their favourite pub. And, food and delivery apps were quick to satisfy their needs and wants.

Now, this is how the food delivery area became one of the fastest-growing verticals of 2020 and continued to grow in 2021 as well. The industry quickly adapted to the new times people were living in, being able to provide consumers with safe, socially-distanced, and convenient services.

But, very few talk about the real price consumers pay for these delicious services and enhanced and more digital dining out experiences: our private data is collected.

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Food and drink apps are on the rise

Elevated by the COVID-19 pandemic, usage of food apps has grown significantly in 2020, reaching a number of 24.8 million users of these apps. Considering that in 2019 only 19.9 million people were using food apps, this is a significant increase in just one year. Food apps like Uber Eats, Deliveroo, Door Dash, and Just Eat are leaders of the food delivery sector in the UK.

But, not just food delivery apps have seen a lucrative period during the pandemic. New digital products have been developed to make the dining out experiences safe as well. Restaurants forced certain apps and QR codes into the hands of customers to order their food and drinks.

Today, consumers who want to dine out can browse the menu and pay for their meals using their phones and apps. And, while this sounds great for not having to leave your seat to order or pay, this luxury has its price: your data is being collected.

Personal data, today’s price for food and drink

With app and web-based ordering becoming commonplace during the pandemic, consumers now have to share more of their private data with hospitality brands.

Now, it’s essential to make a distinction between necessary data and unnecessary data that food apps should not be interested in. Food apps ask for very obvious things that are necessary for them to be able to bring food and drinks at your door, like name, email address, phone number, address, and information about the payment method, be it cash or credit card. And, this is ok.

But, the unnecessary and invasive part about data collection starts when these apps use cookies, web beacons, session replays, and other similar technologies that collect information with the purpose of “personalizing your experience with their services.” In reality, these apps collect real-time information about everything you do with and within their app, including how you scroll it. What’s more, if you log in with a third party, they exchange information they have about you with that service as well. Next, you’re tracked across different platforms and spammed with ads that you may find disruptive.

Another unnecessary part of this data-collection process is that it burdens you, as a consumer, with tons of apps downloaded on your phone and several accounts to remember. Think about it: you gather with your group of friends for a drink in a pub. But, instead of ordering at the bar, you have to do it using an app. A small price to pay for a delicious drink, right? But then, you go to a different place, and the same data-sharing process happens again until you end up with ten different passwords for ten different apps where you share most of your most private data. This significantly increases your risk of having your personal data stolen or used for malicious purposes.

How to check the data apps hold on you?

Awareness is the best first step to handling any sort of problem. In this case, your problem is that your most private data is being collected and shared with third parties who then spam you with ads you don’t want to see. So, the first step is to become aware of what data these apps you use for dining out experiences collect from you.

As the experts from Techrobot, who has an interesting study on how food apps collect data, explain, “It’s tempting to hit download and accept giving your data to get your food or drink as fast as possible. Yet, this means that you give up control on what information about you these apps have access to.”

The good news is that regaining that control isn’t that complicated.

For the apps you already have on your phone, you can see the type of data you’ve allowed them to collect and change your decision on what you share really easily. This sort of information can typically be found in the Settings menu, the privacy section. There, you should be able to find a “permission manager” button that allows you to see what permissions you’ve offered to the app, like access to microphone or camera. Change that permission if you don’t feel comfortable with that app having this type of access to your data.

What’s more, remember that as we are coming out of the pandemic, there is still the ability to order your favourite food and drinks in the more traditional way, without putting your private data at risk.

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