Naughty Naughty App Developers…Always Spying on You!

Angry Birds App

App developers are becoming very naughty indeed. Every time I browse the internet for some information about apps, I always find something that really shocks me. Some apparently harmless apps, such as Angry Birds, Brightest Flashlight and others, actually collect information about yourself without you even knowing that.

A research team at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) analysed 100 free apps and discovered around 56 of them collect information from your smartphones without you even noticing it. The problem is that it is actually you, who are giving the app permission to do so.

Whenever you download a free application, you agree to the terms and conditions, therefore you give authorization to the little app to collect elements such as contact list, photographs, phone ID as well as location straight from you smartphone. I understand reading extensive terms and conditions agreement is very boring, however the situation is becoming a little too serious not to do that anymore. I am starting to believe these smartphones, after all, are not that smart.

You may remember my earlier articles about security regarding the Internet and apps. One of them was entitled “Be Aware: the Web May Be a Dangerous Thing!” in which I discussed about digital crime and some tips to make your smartphone a lot safer. The second one I published a while ago was “Warning! Security Issues for App Users” in regards to free applications gathering data from your smartphone.

Not a 007 Movie

The reason behind this gathering of personal data is very simple: Money! Yes, you heard that right; developers want to gather as much data as possible about you, basically because they make money selling that info to companies looking to reach targeted audience with their advertising.

Therefore, please be aware of the situation but do not think this is a James Bond / 007 movie where your personal data in sold to some dangerous foreign country. It is much simpler than that: Money! And I am starting to believe they are making tons of it, because of the amount of free apps available on the market.

James Bond

Jason Hong, who is a professor at the CMU, in collaboration with other researchers, studied 100 Android applications and found out that more than half of those apps gather information about users. You may know some of the following apps:

  • Angry Birds. The famous gaming application apparently transmits your location, and other info, while you play.
  • Google Maps. Although we knew that already.
  • Farmville.
  • Pandora.
  • Brightest Flashlight. Even the “harmless” flashlight app is in the list of the guilty ones.

Likely There is Someone Looking After Us

Fortunately for us, there is someone working hard to bring this security issue to a resolution. On the 10th of January the California Attorney General (Kamala D. Harris) released a report of privacy recommendations for the parties involved in the smartphone industry, focusing of course on app developers. The report is certainly another step forward in defending your rights in the digital world, however the question is: will apps developers adapt the guidelines in their policies?

The report highlights recommendations towards all parties involved in the smartphone industry, including app developers, app platform providers, mobile ad networks, operating system developers, mobile carriers. And guess what?! The longest list of recommendation is for app developers. Here’s a summary of the guidelines for developers:

  • They need to start having a list of personal data items the app will need to gather from users.
  • Make sure the data collected is actually needed for the functions of the app.
  • Developing a better privacy policy.
  • Developing extra measures to allow users to really know their data collecting policies.

Apps Demand Not Slowing Down

Flurry Blog published an article a while ago, indicating demand for apps has not decreased at all lately. Despite all concerns revolving around the app industry, on Christmas Day 2012, more mobile devices were activated than ever. And obviously, the number of app downloads reached a record as well. Please know the report is about both Android and iOS markets.

According to Flurry’s report:

  • Activations on Christmas Day soared to a spectacular 332% increase over the December average. Furthermore, 17.4 million mobile devices were activated in December 2012, compared to 6.8 million in December 2011.
  • Apps download more than doubled during Christmas Day. We had a 112% increase on the 25th only, compared to the average base during the whole month. This was also and historical record.
  • App downloads jumped to a record of 20 million per hour. This happened between 10am to 10pm of the 25th.
  • On Christmas Day we had more people activating tablets than smartphones. Smartphone activations usually overtake tablets’.

What do you think about this situation? What are your concerns? Please leave a comment below and share your story with me.

JamesBond.jpg photo credit: johanoomen via photopin cc
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