More than 70% of Smartphone Apps Track Users, Study Finds

While smartphone users generally agree to share some kinds of data with software publishers when they download apps, many are giving up far more personal information than they realize, according to a team of information technology researchers.

One reason for this: while different apps request different specific permissions, many also share information with the same third-party libraries containing pre-written code to help developers track user engagement and earn money through display ads. And information shared through these libraries isn't usually transparent to users.

More than 70 percent of the 5,000 apps the researchers studied reported users' personal data to third-party companies. In fact, through its many tracking domain properties, Google parent company Alphabet alone collected user data from more than 48 percent of the apps studied, according to the researchers.

1 out of 4 Trackers Collects Unique Identifiers

Writing this week in The Conversation, Narseo Vallina-Rodriguez of the University of California-Berkeley's International Computer Science Institute and Princeton University computer scientist Srikanth Sundaresan described how they and five other researchers from several other organizations created a free Android app called the Lumen Privacy Monitor to gather data for their study. Published on the Google Play Store, the app has been downloaded and used by more than 1,600 people since October 2015.

"We discovered 598 Internet sites likely to be tracking users for advertising purposes, including social media services like Facebook, large Internet companies like Google and Yahoo, and online marketing companies under the umbrella of Internet service providers like Verizon Wireless," Vallina-Rodriguez and Sundaresan said. "We found that more than 70 percent of the apps we studied connected to at least one tracker, and 15 percent of them connected to five or more trackers."

What's more, the researchers found that one out of every four tracking sites was harvesting a unique identifier such...

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