A newly published study has found that some popular apps, including games aimed at kids, have access to an unusual amount and variety of data about their users. The website Vocativ, working with Carnegie Mellon professor and founder of privacygrade.org Jason Hong, published the result of an analysis run of some of the most popular android apps available. As you can see in the chart below, the analysis focused on four main permission that an application can ask for: access to your contacts list, microphone, text messages and phone call logs.
All apps have to be given these permission by the user at the point of installation, but one has to wonder if people are really paying enough attention to realize that a casual game aimed at children, like Happy Fish, might demand access to the phone’s precise location, photo library and text messages. Most of the permissions apps ask for are necessary for app functionality, but as is the case with many of the ‘free’ technological services that so many of us have come to rely on, most information gathered from users is used to provide targeted advertisements. Apps like the despicable me game, for example, use phone I.D. and carrier information to run market analytics.
Anyone who’s had the irritating experience of seeing their photos and data shared across devices without their knowledge will understand that the trend in tech is not towards respecting the user’s privacy. Some people appreciate the convenience of universal accounts, but if the amount of liberties that today’s applications are taking with our data is a concern, how much harder will it be to manage once the apps take the further liberty of sharing that data with each other. That, according to a new piece in the New York times, is coming in the immediate future. To quote:
Unlike web pages, mobile apps do not have links. They do not have web addresses. They live in worlds by themselves… Now, across Silicon Valley, companies from tiny start-ups to titans like Google and Facebook are trying to bring the same simplicity (linking) to smartphones by teaching apps to talk to one another.
According to the piece, the problem is called ‘deep linking’ and involves finding ways for functions within apps to form direct channels of information with other apps and on the web. These ways are envisioned as the plumbing in a building. One has to wonder how much control the user will have over the taps.