Flashlight among Android Apps That Rat Out Users (and Surprise Them)
Android users are surprised to find that the Flashlight apps for Android could rat out device owners, and many more seemingly innocent apps can track their location, according to the Carnegie Mellon University. Researchers argue people are surprised to learn that popular mobile applications are sharing their sensitive data.
“There’s no sensible reason why a flashlight app would need your location,” said Jason Hong, associate professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute. “That was the biggest surprise to people – 95 percent were surprised it used location data. No one expects Angry Birds to use location data, but it does. All of this information can be used for good or for bad.”
Though users were surprised to learn that Dictionary.com uses their location to identify words searched by other users nearby, some apps are less benign. The Pandora radio app has access to contact lists, the Flashlight app is also sharing their device ID, while Horoscope collects location data. Many free apps also share sensitive data with online marketers and profiling groups.
Researchers at the Carnegie’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute analyzed the top 100 Android mobile apps of the past year with an eye to security concerns. The 10 apps that most surprised users (and the sensitive information each app accesses) were:
Brightest Flashlight (device ID, location)
Toss It game (device ID, location)
Angry Birds game (device ID, location)
Talking Tom virtual pet (device ID)
Backgrounds HD Wallpapers (device ID, contacts)
Dictionary.com (device ID, location)
Mouse Trap game (device ID)
Horoscope (device ID, location)
Shazam music (device ID, location)
Pandora Internet Radio (device ID, contacts)
At the same time, many popular apps caused no surprise in terms of data access. As an example, no one was concerned that Google Maps accessed location information or that a messaging tool accessed contact lists.
More than half a million apps can be downloaded from The App Store, and the market will develop beyond smartphones. “TVs will run apps. Cars will have apps. We’re going to see all of these problems again,” Hong said.
The research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Google and the Army Research Office.