Smartphone applications circulate private information

A research has found that publicly available cell-phone applications are releasing customers` personal information to online advertisers.

Updated: Sep 30, 2010, 23:48 PM IST

Washington: A research has found that publicly available cell-phone applications are releasing customers` personal information to online advertisers.

Researchers from Intel Labs, Penn State and Duke Universities have developed a realtime monitoring service called TaintDroid that precisely analyses how private information is obtained and released by applications "downloaded" to consumer phones.

TaintDroid is an extension to the Android mobile-phone platform that tracks the flow of sensitive data through third-party applications.

In a study of 30 popular applications, TaintDroid revealed that 15 send users` geographic location to remote advertisement servers, according to a statement of Intel Labs and Penn State.

The study also found that seven of the 30 applications send a unique phone (hardware) identifier, and in some cases even send the phone number and SIM card serial number to developers.

In all, the researchers identified 68 instances of potentially misused private information by 20 applications.

"We were surprised by how many of the studied applications shared our information without our knowledge or consent," said William Enck, a graduate student at Penn State.

"Often, smartphone applications have obvious user interface changes when they use information like your physical location.

"These cases usually occur in response to the user pressing a button with clear implications. The cases we found were suspicious because there was no obvious way for the user to know what happened or why," Enck added.

Smartphones offer a convenient way to download and install third-party applications.

More than 200,000 applications are currently available in Apple`s App Store and over 70,000 in Android`s Market.

"Many of these applications access users` personal data such as location, phone information and usage history to enhance their experience," said Patrick McDaniel, associate professor of computer science and engineering at Penn State.

"But users must trust that applications will only use their privacy-sensitive information in a desirable way," McDaniel said.

Unfortunately, applications rarely provide privacy policies that clearly state how users` sensitive information will be used and users have no way of knowing where applications send the information given to them.

IANS