Beware: Phone Apps Abysmal on Privacy Practices

A global study of more than 1,200 mobile apps found serious privacy issues with up to 85 percent of them, according to a report by an international privacy watchdog. Twenty six privacy authorities in 19 countries participated in the study to assess mobile apps' privacy practices, based on a survey that took place in May of this year.

The survey was conducted by the Global Privacy Enforcement Network, an organization of government privacy watchdogs and regulators from dozens of countries, including the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S., Canada's Office of the Privacy Commissioner, and the UK's Information Commissioner's Office.

Obscure Privacy Policies

According to GPEN's report, almost 60 percent of the apps that were investigated raised red flags with researchers even before they were downloaded, with users unable to find even basic information about an app's privacy practices prior to installing it on a smartphone. Of the apps that did provide some level of privacy information prior to download, researchers found they often linked to an external Web site, often using text that was too small to read on a smartphone screen.

In other cases, the apps linked to social media pages. Sometimes users would have to log in to view the policy or the links were simply broken. A number of apps raised questions about who the developer or data controller was. Perhaps most alarmingly, GPEN surveyors found that 30 percent of apps provided absolutely no privacy policy information whatsoever.

Seventy five percent of the apps surveyed requested permission for one or more categories of information from the user, including location data, the device's ID, access to other accounts, and the device's camera. Although app makers may argue the information requested is necessary in order for the application to function as advertised, researchers found that 31 percent of...

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