Tech

Report finds that Android apps are more likely to “spy” on you

Oh dear.

"A significant proportion of apps share data from user inputs such as personal information or search terms with third parties without Android or iOS requiring a notification to the user."

This is the concerning conclusion drawn by the researchers of a new report on app privacy, Who Knows What About Me? - a damning study that adds further weight to the notion our devices and internet connections aren't as secure as we might hope.

A staggerging 73 percent of tested Android apps shared personal information such as email address with third parties, while 47 percent of iOS apps shared geo-coordinates and other location data.

The researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard, and Carnegie-Mellon universities selected 110 of the most popular free apps for study - 55 from Google Play and 55 Apple App Store. 

"To test an app, we simulated typical use for 10 to 20 minutes, sufficient to establish personal accounts with passwords, populate requests with personally identifiable information (PII), and use the basic functionalities of the app such as conducting a search, looking at a page of results, or playing one level of a game," writes the report. Apple apps were tested on a trusty old iPhone 5, while Android apps were run on a Samsung Galaxy S3.

While many of the tested apps will request a permissions agreement on download, the report highlighted that free apps seldom give a notification of when an app shares data from user inputs such as personal information or search terms with third parties - they're just mining away in the background with no indication of what's being shared.

Another concerning stat was seen amongst the tested Android apps: 93 percent connecting to a "mysterious domain", Safemovedm.com, a geolocation service that lists "Business Intelligence" amongst its interests. Phones would continue to send data to this site even without the tested app running. 

Privacy International told the BBC that the report's study on minimal consent "highlights the many ways that the devices we use can betray us".

So - what next? 

If you're worried about the information your app is sending, have a read of the small print in their privacy section. Yes, it'll take a while, but it'll tell you in black and white what the app is doing. You can turn off many location functions via your phone settings. In all honesty, if you own a smartphone with geolocation functions, you're going to leave yourself open to services knowing where you are. 

Time to boot up that 3310.