Apps May Not Eavesdrop On You But They Record Screen Activities

Young man hides smartphone under sheets

Young man hides smartphone under sheets

As reported by Tech Radar, a study of more than thousand apps was done to check if they recorded audio by using the microphone as 10 Android handsets monitored 17,260 popular applications with the help of an automated programme that noted when media files were exported from the apps.

The team also figured out which apps had permission to access the camera and microphone. The bad news is that a few of them may be recording your phone's screen.

People have believed that their phones have secretly been listening to them to gather data for targeted advertising, building a myth that a bunch of computer science academics at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, made a decision to look into. "This can occur without needing any permissions from the user". This included any app sending information to social media behemoth Facebook. Like good scientists, they refuse to say that their study definitively proves that your phone isn't secretly listening to you, but they didn't find a single instance of it happening.

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Considering these limitations, these researchers found no solid evidence of snooping, and the apps never really acted shady and activated the microphone for recording audio without the user's knowledge. "Importantly, we find that third-party libraries record a video of a user's interaction with an app, including at times sensitive input fields, without any permissions or notification to the user". One app in particular sent quite a bit of information to an analytics company. Using an automated program to interact with the app, they discovered GoPuff would send the interaction to mobile analytics company Appsee. That might make sense in our highly connected world, but this behavior was not disclosed in GoPuff's privacy policy (the company has since added a line to cover the usage). In its reporting of the study, Gizmodo emailed Google about its Play Store policies and whether or not withholding the sharing of gathered data is allowable under the current policies. After being contacted by the researchers, GoPuff reportedly updated its privacy policy and removed the AppSee SDK.

Google Play notes that all apps are required to "post a privacy policy that, together with any in-app disclosures, explain what user data your app collects and transmits, how it's used, and the types of parties with whom it's shared".

NU researchers Elleen Pan, Jingjing Ren, Martina Lindorfer, Christo Wilson and David Choffnes are planning to present their findings at the Privacy Enhancing Technology Symposium (PETS) in Barcelona in July.

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