Is your phone too smart for its own good? New research shows that many of today’s popular smartphone apps are sharing users’ sensitive information with third-party companies.
And while most of this sharing is done with the user’s consent, the study shows that some folks still feel hoodwinked when they discover that their phone is divvying out contact lists and other personal data.
“No one expects "Angry Birds" to use location data, but it does,” said Jason Hong, associate professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.
Hong and computer science professor Norman Sadeh led the study that gathered information on user perceptions and expectations about app privacy and security. The apps that surprised people the most in what information they are allowed to access on users’ phones were:
- Brightest Flashlight
- "Toss It"
- "Angry Birds"
- Talking Tom
- Backgrounds HD Wallpapers
- "Mouse Trap"
- Pandora Internet Radio
Of these 10 apps, all access the user's device ID, six access the user's location, and two access contact lists. And while it might not be surprising to learn that an app like Google Maps accesses user location, most people are disconcerted to find that Pandora is accessing their personal contacts.
And what exactly are these apps doing with all the information they collect from users? Every app is different, but the popular "Angry Birds" app, for example, shares sensitive information with eight entities — four companies that target mobile ads, two mobile ad networks, one analytics site and an ad optimization company.
Sadeh said, “As part of our work, we have been automatically scanning the code of mobile apps to determine what they do with the data they collect. While today mobile app markets do not show this information to users, our research indicates that it can have a significant impact on people’s comfort level and would enable them to make better informed decisions when selecting apps to install on their phones.”
With over half a million apps on the market today, it would be very difficult for Sadeh, Hong and their team of researchers to analyze every app, but they do plan on continuing to crowd-source users’ perceptions of app privacy and perhaps develop some criteria for what sensitive information users find acceptable for particular apps to access.