Does your Favorite Mobile App Leak Data?

If you view the new study that was led by David Choffnes, professor of computer science at Northeastern University, your favorite app probably leaks data. With the prevalence of mobile devices in today’s society, privacy concerns over what data is shared are finally being recognized. Choffnes, the leader of one study into app privacy, presented his findings to the Data Transparency Lab Conference hosted by MIT on Monday. His study showed some alarming numbers for both iOS and Android operating systems.

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This study tested the 55 most popular apps, and his team found that 73% of those apps shared information with 3rd party advertisers and analytics companies without notifying the user it was occurring. With a recent push by Apple towards privacy, their iOS fared a bit better, with half of their apps leaking. Some of these leaks are small, but others are quite large. Apps do not need to share your location every time you buy an airline ticket.

This study is one of the latest research studies performed by Harvard and Northeastern universities with the goal of empowering the user. These groups feel that the user should know how their data is being shared, and if the app is collecting too much information. That is what led Choffnes to create the on-phone gatekeeper, ReCon. After installing the app, it will show the information and violations. It will quickly tell you if your favorite app is a data leaker or not.

Once you have that information, it is up to you to decide whether to continue using the leaky app or not. No matter your decision, you have a right to know how and when your data is being shared. Apps that you would normally think of as being secure are being shown not to be. According to Joseph Hall, the chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit, we need to change our attitudes toward digital privacy and get more serious about our “digital hygiene”.

Truly, it is great to see studies like this come out of such reputable schools. Perhaps this will prompt mobile users to listen and act. If not, at least we can take some solace that the information is available. The tools are out there if we choose to use them, but only time will tell if these studies will make an impact on what the user thinks and does. Until then, we will keep informing the public.