by Robert Siciliano

Mobile Apps Are Leaking Data on You

Feb 19, 2011

Tracking users is all the rage. A battle is being waged over our data, and there are several parties involved in this fight. We voluntarily offer our data to various companies, only to discover that they are using it in ways that we never anticipated.

Smartphones have become almost an extension of ourselves. They are as integral to our lives as clothing. I have mine clipped to my suit when I’m working, jeans when I’m shopping, and pajamas when I’m lounging. And then, of course, it’s on the nightstand when I’m sleeping. It’s even right outside the shower.

And then there are the applications. Most people spend more time navigating their apps than actually making or receiving calls.

The Wall Street Journal found that many app developers haven’t been upfront with their intentions:

“An examination of 101 popular smartphone “apps”—games and other software applications for iPhone and Android phones—showed that 56 transmitted the phone’s unique device ID to other companies without users’ awareness or consent. Forty-seven apps transmitted the phone’s location in some way. Five sent age, gender and other personal details to outsiders. The findings reveal the intrusive effort by online-tracking companies to gather personal data about people in order to flesh out detailed dossiers on them.”

One developer of online ads and mobile apps declared, “We watch what apps you download, how frequently you use them, how much time you spend on them, how deep into the app you go.” The motivation here is money. The more they know about you, the more targeted ads they can deliver, and the more likely you are to buy.

So what to do? Privacy concerns are justified, but what can be done with this data, other than ad targeting? Not much. I don’t see any fraud or identity theft happening as a result of this. They aren’t going to try to sell you anything by cold calling you, and hopefully they’ll refrain from emailing sales pitches.

If you want to cleanse yourself of this type of tracking you can delete and avoid apps, or you could provide false information, but that could violate terms of service, and might even be a useless tactic.

The best you can do is try to understand what you are giving and what you are getting in return, and make conscious decisions as to whether the tradeoff is worth it to you.

Robert Siciliano, personal security expert contributor to Just Ask Gemalto, discusses leaky applications on Fox News. (Disclosures)