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Many More Android Apps Leaking User Data

CmdrTaco posted more than 2 years ago | from the because-they-can dept.

Cellphones 299

eldavojohn writes "After developing and using TaintDroid, several universities found that of 30 popular free Android apps, half were sharing GPS data and phone numbers with advertisers and remote servers. A few months ago, one app was sending phone numbers to a remote server in China but today the situation looks a lot more pervasive. In their paper (PDF), the researchers blasted Google saying 'Android's coarse grained access control provides insufficient protection against third-party applications seeking to collect sensitive data.' Google's response: 'Android has taken steps to inform users of this trust relationship and to limit the amount of trust a user must grant to any given application developer. We also provide developers with best practices about how to handle user data. We consistently advise users to only install apps they trust.'"

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List of apps and permissions they need (5, Informative)

slaxative (1867220) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749584)

They finally get to the part I care about, which is the list of apps they tried. Look at page 9 of their paper in PDF format.

Re:List of apps and permissions they need (3, Informative)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749842)

Too bad after listing all the apps and what permissions they requested, they never named which of them misbehaved, only total numbers.

Re:List of apps and permissions they need (1)

beakerMeep (716990) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750236)

Posted in the comments at ars:
===================

SpinyNorman | Thu Sep 30, 2010 8:08 am | permalink
I wish you chaps would link through to your sources.

[edit] ah, here we go:http://appanalysis.org/pubs.html

No details on which apps did what, only summary information. These were the apps:

The Weather Channel (News & Weather);
Cestos, Solitaire (Game);
Movies (Entertainment);
Babble (Social);
Manga Browser (Comics)
Bump, Wertago (Social);
Antivirus (Communication);
ABC — Animals, Traffic Jam, Hearts,Blackjack, (Games);
Horoscope (Lifestyle);
3001 Wisdom Quotes Lite, Yellow Pages (Reference);
Dastelefonbuch, Astrid (Productivity),
BBC News Live Stream (News & Weather);
Ringtones (Entertainment)
Layer (Productivity);
Knocking (Social);
Barcode Scanner, Coupons (Shopping);
Trapster (Travel);
Spongebob Slide (Game);
ProBasketBall (Sports)
MySpace (Social);
ixMAT (Shopping)
Evernote (Productivity)

Last edited by SpinyNorman on Thu Sep 30, 2010 8:23 am

Re:List of apps and permissions they need (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750374)

That's a list of the apps they studied, not a list of the apps which they found to be leaking private information. What I, and I suspect others are looking for is a table with the following headers: App Name, Publisher, Permissions, Leaked Information, version number.

And In Other News... (2, Interesting)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749962)

And in other news, smartphone security sucks. News at 11.

but its open.... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33749588)

but its open....

Re:but its open.... (1, Informative)

E IS mC(Square) (721736) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749732)

You are confused between Android OS and Android Apps. But don't let that interfere with your bashing of "open" and love for apple's walled garden. Please continue.

Re:but its open.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33749794)

You got all that from an anonymous troll's 3 word line? Wow..

In any case, I know with Apple's stuff any app can request GPS information but the user will always get a popup asking for permission.

Re:but its open.... (-1, Troll)

varmittang (849469) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750036)

Your own statement of saying "apple's walled garden" just proves his "but its open..." statement even more. But please continue.

Re:but its open.... (1)

_Sprocket_ (42527) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750166)

Your own statement of saying "apple's walled garden" just proves his "but its open..." statement even more. But please continue.

Your statement implying meaning to his implying meaning to the parent's comment implies... wait a second. Where are we going with this?

Re:but its open.... (1)

jgagnon (1663075) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750332)

It's a pissing match, where each party is trying to piss in opposite corners of a round room.

Re:but its open.... (1, Flamebait)

catmistake (814204) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750420)

You are confused between Android OS and Android Apps. But don't let that interfere with your bashing of "open" and love for apple's walled garden. Please continue.

The Earth, too, is a walled garden. The US is a free country, but only from sea to sea. But, please, let's not generalize. How did Apple personally fuck you over with their walled garden? Because it seems like they just don't need any more great developers... nearly every cool feature exploited has at least a few decent apps to cover it. What were you gonna do that the "walled garden" stopped you from doing? (What almost comes to mind is.... damn... escapes me... what was it Morrison used to say about doors?) Or what is it that you THINK you MUST HAVE that Apple has forbidden? And how often is it on another smart phone that you are perfectly capable of doing this cherished activity, and what is it's true frequency of use?

All Apple has done is narrowed the field a bit, to figure out what the most common things are that most people want... and then they focused on perfecting that. Rather than being all things to all people, they try to enable the best things for most people. And now the curve is very steep.

Re:but its open.... (0, Offtopic)

catmistake (814204) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750762)

ha ha, go anti-apple mods (this is the flaimbait, not the parent)

Re:but its open.... (0, Redundant)

mark72005 (1233572) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750884)

It sure is.

This is why OSS is so important (2, Interesting)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749590)

The problem here is that the apps themselves are closed, so you can't inspect the code to see if this kind of thing is going on.

It may just be sending some statistical data so the server can form better assumptions about the user and thus provide better service in the future. Or it may be sending such data for nefarious purposes. Without accessing the code, you can't know, and worse you can't control it.

Java was an interesting implementation language choice in Android, but with the browser-based interface, perhaps Javascript would have been a better system language. It would have been open and users could have more control over their own phone.

Unless removing such control is precisely why Google did it.

Re:This is why OSS is so important (3, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749768)

No, the problem is gold-rush developers. With a platform like the iPhone, or Android, you have a sudden perception among developers that they can get rich from relatively simple apps. This leads to the '200 fart apps' problem, and it also leads to a massive incentive to get things to market before the competition, which causes a complete lack of QA in the release process.

There is no simple solution to this, the only thing to do is wait for the platforms to mature.

Re:This is why OSS is so important (4, Informative)

grub (11606) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749896)


it also leads to a massive incentive to get things to market before the competition, which causes a complete lack of QA in the release process.

In the iOS world any app can try to read the GPS but the user is presented with a dialog asking for permission to do so. If it's an annoyance you can turn apps' permissions on or off individually in the Location options.

From what I've read, Apple's review process runs apps through some pretty funky things looking for naughtiness.

The odd piece slips through, of course, but I doubt it's half the popular programs as it sounds like it is for Android.

Re:This is why OSS is so important (5, Insightful)

Specter (11099) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750360)

^ this.

This is the value of the App Store that geeks/developers consistently underrate. Apple's walled garden provides a barrier to entry that helps to reduce the risk of ending up with a fart app that's also downloading your private banking information to China.

Google's free-for-all Marketplace is a real risk to Android's long term success because it sets up Android phones to become the must-see destination for viruses, mal-ware, and other shady operations. How long do you think it's going to be before having an Android anti-virus application is a practical requirement? What the uber-geek sees as the positive benefits of the Android eco-system (freedom and unlimited choices) are in fact NEGATIVE attributes to most of the rest of the mobile phone consuming populace. It's sorta like Android is the Linux of mobile phones...oh wait.

I enjoyed the EVO vs. iPhone YouTube video as much as anyone but more than a funny rip on Apple, it's also a perfect demonstration of how a lot of the technical community doesn't get it. Android's popular because the iPhone is hard to get and it's a pretty respectable facsimile of an iPhone, not because it has more WIFIs and GBs than Apple. When rogue apps start to make Android painful to use and own expect consumers to start looking for The Next Big Thing (tm).

Re:This is why OSS is so important (3, Interesting)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750618)

This is the value of the App Store that geeks/developers consistently underrate.

That's because a lot of geeks and developers don't need Apple to tell them what not to install, they're typically capable of figuring that out on their own. If a simple card game asks for fine-grain location information or full internet access, that should be a red flag to anyone paying attention.

Maybe it's just the case that Android is for "power users" and Apple is for everyone else, but the value that you see in Apple's store is simply not needed by a lot of the people who buy Android devices, and in fact becomes a negative.

Re:This is why OSS is so important (1)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750862)

Philosophically, the market is only fractionally made up of geeks and developers. Consumers are where the big bucks are. You then make a leap to conclude that "Android is for 'power users'" and Apple for everyone else.

Instead, TFA implies that google is saying caveat emptor, where Apple is at least trying to prevent surrepticious application behavior. Some people believe that this action embues a sense of trust. I'm not sure that I do, but others seem to feel so.

Becoming a 'negative'? I would expect Google to tell developers to show source, parse that source for obvious bad behavior, and act to prevent problems, be they memory leaks, Java cache loops, or mad-dialing behavior or attempts to use information they're not supposed to. There's a big difference between civility and total anarchy.

Re:This is why OSS is so important (1)

Mike Buddha (10734) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750742)

Google's free-for-all Marketplace is a real risk to Android's long term success because it sets up Android phones to become the must-see destination for viruses, mal-ware, and other shady operations.

Yes, because Microsoft's free-for-all software development policies has really threatened it's long term success. All the viruses, mal-ware, and other shady operations are causing people to abandon the OS and move to other competing OSes. Oh wait, that's a complete crock. My bad. I guess free-for-all access to software isn't a threat to long term success, rather, it's a key to long term success. Hmm, go figure. It flies in the face of Apple-apologist common sense. Well distort my reality!

Re:This is why OSS is so important (1)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750024)

It may just be sending some statistical data so the server can form better assumptions about the user and thus provide better service in the future. Or it may be sending such data for nefarious purposes. Without accessing the code, you can't know...

I don't see how access to the code is necessarily going to help you with that either, unless the developer commented their code with

// transmit personal info for nefarious purposes, MUHAHAHAHA!!!

How the data is used will be on the server side, and complete transparent to the end user.

Re:This is why OSS is so important (1)

lowrydr310 (830514) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750376)

I would like the option to restrict specific permissions at the application level. Currently when I'm about to install an application, I'm given a list of permissions the application is requesting where I can choose to either install the app, or not install if I don't agree with something. Now I know that this has the potential to break many applications or cause some problems if I have the ability to deny a specific permission, but it would be nice if this could be implemented somehow to give the user more control over security.

I'll give you one example; I wanted to install Pandora radio on my phone. Pandora wants to access my contacts and my GPS location information. WHY? Why should a streaming audio application need to know my contacts or location? The contact permission is needed so I can share a song with someone on my contacts; it sounds simple enough, but I'd be much more comfortable denying that permission as I'll never be using that feature. Location is presumably needed for targeted advertising, but that's pretty creepy. Can't they just be happy enough with (very coarse) location data based off of the IP address that I'm using to connect?

15 of the 30... (0, Troll)

GweeDo (127172) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749594)

15 of the 30 got on their list due to providing location data for advertising. I hardly consider that a sending your personal data as the article implies.

Re:15 of the 30... (4, Insightful)

wgaryhas (872268) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749740)

Being able to know where you are and when isn't personal information?

Re:15 of the 30... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33750020)

The thing is, whenever you add an application to your Android phone, it very explicitly and clearly states which parts of your phone will be accessed and potentially communicated. If you installed the "3001 Wisdom Quotes Lite" application and weren't paying attention when it said it'd be using your Location info, that's on you. It's not even like you have to scroll through a 100 page terms of service agreement, it's 3 friggen lines on your screen in great big letters with a dialog asking for permission. Same reason UAC fails on Windows, people just click OK.

Re:15 of the 30... (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750174)

Being able to know where you are and when isn't personal information?

As long as no "who" information is transmitted to the advertiser, it's not personal. It's just some unknown device at coordinates X,Y at time T. Add on a unique identifier, then it starts getting personal as they can start building a profile of person P.

Re:15 of the 30... (1)

ADRA (37398) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750196)

AdMob uses the -coarse- sensitive location for ads when you want to serve up something thats location sensitive like 'Eat at McDonalds in "My City" at abc blvd.' but that's pretty much it. All they really need is the coarse location setting which gives a general approximation of where the individual is at in order to target ads for the best experience. That's is a location sensitive ad, and it was the choice of the app developer to allow it. The app developer wants more money from their ads, but its not lkike any of them control how that data is collected or used. If you have a problem with the 'data leak' then don't connect to the internet without 3rd party proxies in between and don't install any applications, because invariably some of them are leaking data back to somewhere all the time. Hell, I'm typing this from Firefox which pretty much calls home on a daily basis. I don't bother to check on the bits flying across the wire, they could be leaking a key log for all I know. If you don't want geo sensitive ads served to your device then don't use that person's app. Is there something evil or nefarious about the DEVELOPERS of these apps? No. Moving along...

Re:15 of the 30... (1)

Internalist (928097) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750510)

Not if you take into account anyone who's got line-of-sight to you, or is within earshot of you...

Re:15 of the 30... (1)

Monchanger (637670) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750634)

Not if they don't know who you are. You're not scared enough of being seen driving down the highway to hide your face and plates. Nor are most technical people so fearful of this that they'll bother to use a proxy to avoid IP and browser information to be revealed.

Raw GPS data in itself is pretty useless except to correlate similar coordinates. What can they do- send you an ad for a local pizzeria if it's dinnertime, or local entertainment otherwise? Big deal.

There is only capacity to profile if they could get frequent updates, with which to build a real tracking database which shows extended location periods such as home/work. That and they'd need to be able to uniquely identify each user to actually figure out where you live and work/school instead of just getting locations where random Android phones have checked in. And then to get reliable data that'd take an application you use routinely, not just some random sudoku game and you're just that bored to play everywhere you go.

Granting them access to your name & address, contacts, list of installed applications, email and browser history is a completely different matter. It's much easier and far more reliable to drive around looking for a nice car in a driveway and watch the house for a couple days.

That is, unless you're overly paranoid and premise that the whole world is watching your every move because you're just that special.

The key, as has been pointed out, is not to install random crap you see on the Internet without scrutinizing it and its source. Come on, nobody is pointing out that there's nothing new to this issue and that PCs (Windows, that is) and weak passwords are far ore vulnerable to privacy violations.

Obvious tips which require little more than a spinal cord: Application requesting far too many permissions it doesn't seem to actuall need? Don't install. No listed developer website? I'd pass. Free application? Be extra careful because no paper trail will provide some minimal amount of tracking. Reviews are obviously self-promotions or written by children? Ignore the number of stars. And the pinnacle of obvious: Sounds too good to be true? It's not.

Re:15 of the 30... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33749746)

where do you live?

Re:15 of the 30... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33749776)

@GweeDo I disagree

Re:15 of the 30... (5, Funny)

ciscoeng (411359) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750130)

"This is OnStar. You appear to be traveling at a high rate of speed after stopping at a bank. Do you require police assistance?"

List anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33749618)

Does anyone have a comprehensive list of which apps are sharing data? Or better yet, is there a website where we could report such behavior, and that information would be viewed by others?

But how? (5, Insightful)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749636)

"We also provide developers with best practices about how to handle user data. We consistently advise users to only install apps they trust.'"

How exactly is one supposed to do this? What is the process for building trust vis-a-vis apps when the only protection you receive from your service provider is "don't walk into dark alleys you don't trust"?

Re:But how? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33749904)

For a start, don't install a flashlight app that requests access to network features.

Re:But how? (2, Informative)

Kenja (541830) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750224)

For example. If the fart sound generator you download needs access to your call log (which you are told when you install it) I wouldn't trust it.

Re:But how? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33750242)

It's worked out on desktops somehow. So how has it worked on desktops and how do we apply that to phones?

Re:But how? (3, Interesting)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750302)

desktops have antivirus, antimalware and firewalls. What does your android phone have?

Re:But how? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33750514)

What does your android phone have?

Too much Google in my Linux box.

Re:But how? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33750852)

If you really want it...

http://www.androlib.com/android.application.com-antivirus-Czm.aspx

But I prefer the same protection for my phone that I prefer for my desktop; Be smart about what you download.

Re:But how? (1)

Wiarumas (919682) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750444)

Only install apps you trust. Like IE6 and Weatherbug.

default permissions (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33749646)

All apps have access to r/w your sdcard, and to get your identity (esn/imei/meid/phone number). Once you give an app permission to access the internet, your identity and sdcard contents are public. Google needs to fix this. Don't believe me? Install a file manager app. Most won't ask for permission to access the sdcard, but they will be able to. Some permissions are granted without the app asking for it.

Re:default permissions (2, Informative)

BradleyUffner (103496) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749692)

All apps have access to r/w your sdcard, and to get your identity (esn/imei/meid/phone number). Once you give an app permission to access the internet, your identity and sdcard contents are public.

Google needs to fix this. Don't believe me? Install a file manager app. Most won't ask for permission to access the sdcard, but they will be able to. Some permissions are granted without the app asking for it.

Are you sure? In the app I wrote I had to explicitly request access to these in the application's manifest file, or get an error.

Re:default permissions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33749860)

Which permissions, how long ago, and did you install it through the market or using adb? Installing through the market automatically grants the sdcard and identity permissions without telling the user. Take the exact same apk and sideload it and those permissions will be shown to the user before installing.

Re:default permissions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33750610)

Go in to the Market and search for pub:"Adao Team" and look at the permissions on their app called "File Manager". It only asks for internet acces, install shortcuts, and kill background processes. I bet it can access the sdcard even though it doesn't ask for it. It would be useless if it couldn't access the sd card.

What Android needs... (4, Insightful)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749658)

Not only the ability to display what permissions an app requests, but the ability to deny the use of those features on a per feature basis for each app.

For instance, an app may request internet access (cellular radio or wifi), the user should be able to choose to limit that to just wifi or even turn off connectivity for that app all together.

Re:What Android needs... (4, Interesting)

netsharc (195805) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749856)

which, incidentally, is what BlackBerry has. You can allow/deny each app permission to access your address book, calendar, internet connection, send SMS, open your mailbox, etc. I don't think even the iOS have that yet (or well, I think it does, but for GPS location only). An app must be prepared to get an "access denied" exception, and survive through it.

And for corporate users, an admin can even set your phone to not allow installation of custom programs, deny all requests to read the user's calendar/address book (except for a white-list of apps), etc, etc.

As an Android user I wish Android would copy this feature, and as a fan of superior technology, I wish BlackBerry could promote these security features more.

Re:What Android needs... (1)

AndrewNeo (979708) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750154)

What's interesting is that if an Android app doesn't have permission an exception is raised, but you're taught to make sure to add the permission flag instead of catching the exception. (Which makes sense, because as it stands right now, if you don't set the flag you'll -never- get the permission). But if they had told you to catch the exceptions, applications would be ready for user-flippable permissions.

Re:What Android needs... (1)

ADRA (37398) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750348)

As a user, I think it'd be great to have the ability to nuke privileges to certain functions that I don't think that the app should have. Inversely, I think as a developer this would be incredibly frustrating. Taking away the ability to perform functions that very well could be a core function of the app would cause no end of frustration to debug and fix. Plus, bad reviews and crashes relating to stupid permissions filtering just increases the support head-ache of releasing apps.

I think a happy solution would be to have apps that have mandatory and permissive permissions. Mandatory permissions must always be in place, but permissive ones can be turned on/off when first installed and later through the application settings menu. That means that I can release a piece of software that integrates with their address book if they want that integration, but if they don't want it, then they have the option of turning it off.

Another nice feature for developers would be a small space to describe why they need a given system permission

Thirdly, the other annoyance is that by supporting the Android 1.5 platform, it automatically assigns permissions for internet and write external. Both permissions make it difficult to have something like a tip calculator or fart app that doesn't look like spyware.

Re:What Android needs... (1)

BradleyUffner (103496) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749878)

Not only the ability to display what permissions an app requests, but the ability to deny the use of those features on a per feature basis for each app.

For instance, an app may request internet access (cellular radio or wifi), the user should be able to choose to limit that to just wifi or even turn off connectivity for that app all together.

This would be pretty awesome from an end user perspective, but would cause havoc with the ad supported applications on the market. Though I suppose that could be worked around by having the application state if a permission is optional or required. If the user denies a required permission the app won't install.

Re:What Android needs... (1)

AndrewNeo (979708) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750164)

Or, rather than not installing, shows a dialog or something that says, "We need ad revenue to continue supporting this application! Please enable location permission so we can provide ads and let you use this application for free. Or buy our paid version!" That way the user knows what they're getting into.

Re:What Android needs... (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750410)

It could, but there's no reason for ads to require you to tell them where you are at an given time. I get that advertisers get hard over it, but at some point you have to draw a line.

More than that though, how much of the location stuff is really at the request of the developers? What say do they get when it comes to the overly invasive advertising other than not using it at all?

Re:What Android needs... (1)

blueZ3 (744446) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750720)

The issue with advertising (as I see it) is that there are actually a lot of small advertisers who are willing to pay for ad space, but only if it's relevant. For instance, I see ads for a local shop--that provides services as opposed to retail--in one app on my phone. You can bet that that shop owner would be unwilling to pay for ads that were going to be distributed nationally, because 99% of the people who see that ad aren't going to live close enough to use the service.

For someone like a car company, or an on-line retailer, or national fast food chain, location might not matter. Anyone anywhere might buy a Ford, shop at Amazon, or eat at McDonalds. But those big companies aren't going to be interested in advertising in a fart app that's been downloaded 300 times.

I suspect that this, along with the thorny issue of using now-capped bandwidth to serve ads, is going to put ad-supported apps out of business.

Re:What Android needs... (1)

BlueKitties (1541613) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749880)

That could induce explosions. Consider the following line of code: displayUserName(getUserNameFromWeb()); That line of code will not function if it doesn't have web access. You can restrict the options of the app, but this will cause two things: existing apps that require certain features will suddenly stop working, and all new apps will be required to account for such exceptional cases (something everyone should do already, but this will magnify the issue.)

Re:What Android needs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33750122)

Consider the following line of code: displayUserName(getUserNameFromWeb()); That line of code will not function if it doesn't have web access.

The same thing would happen if you're out of service area. Or if it asks for the GPS coords and your GPS can't get a lock. Apps already have issues where they don't have access to everything they need. Why not give the user control over it?

Re:What Android needs... (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750268)

Gee, what are these "exception" things I keep hearing about? Someone was telling me you can catch them, and then handle them... whatever that means!?

Re:What Android needs... (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750012)

How much does the fact that the system/OS was created by Google, which is in the business of trying to mine as much personal data as it can? Is this misplaced trust just because they have a (now jaded) motto of 'do no evil'? People complain about privacy on Facebook while I am concerned more about Google. (Concerned because I can't really worry about something that is very difficult to do anything about by myself.)

Re:What Android needs... (1)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750082)

Not only the ability to display what permissions an app requests, but the ability to deny the use of those features on a per feature basis for each app.

So the phone needs a decent firewall now?

Re:What Android needs... (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750430)

They've needed them for some time, it's just that for some reason they aren't really available yet.

Re:What Android needs... (1)

tibman (623933) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750816)

I don't own an android phone yet, but i's linux based.. correct? Linux has a built in firewall via iptables. Why can't they just use that?

Prevasive? (1, Troll)

jambarama (784670) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749660)

Doesn't someone spellcheck these summaries?

Re:Prevasive? (2, Informative)

Dancindan84 (1056246) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749796)

It's a perfectly cromulent word comprising of:
Pre, from the Latin prae meaning before, in front
evasive, meaning tending or seeking to evade

This submission was accepted prevasively to editing it.

Re:Prevasive? (4, Funny)

boneclinkz (1284458) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750436)

I felt that the utilitization of the word prevasive added an element of loquatiatory verbosity to an otherwise diphractic article.

Re:Prevasive? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33750526)

I have an app for that

Re:Prevasive? (1)

blueZ3 (744446) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750876)

Don't try to understand the editors. That is impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth: there are no editors.

Applications I trust? (5, Insightful)

sotweed (118223) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749666)

It is hard enough to know if I should trust my child, and I raised him. He doesn't
tell me much. App developers tell me less, and some of them are devious. This is not
a good security model. And Google knows better.

So buy an iPhone. (1)

wiredog (43288) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750548)

Apple has that platform locked down nicely.

Google's response == fluff (4, Insightful)

inviolet (797804) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749678)

"Android has taken steps to inform users of this trust relationship and to limit the amount of trust a user must grant to any given application developer. We also provide developers with best practices about how to handle user data. We consistently advise users to only install apps they trust." -- Google

What a bunch of fluff. The relevant developers don't care about "best practices" or any other voluntary standard. And how the f*** are users supposed to establish trust in certain apps? The platform does not significantly monitor an application's ongoing behavior, nor is anyone performing serious code-reviews or blackbox testing. Google COULD HAVE set up profiling tests similar to those run in TFA, but didn't.

For ONCE would a company please admit that they reduced privacy in order to provide the dumbed-down usability needed to capture market share and attract developers?

Well hell... (0, Flamebait)

ThePawArmy (952965) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749682)

Then I guess the problem is solved.

useless article (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33749790)

So WHAT WERE THE APPS? Jesus Christ. "Tune in at 6 to find out how to prevent your children from dying!"

Bye Bye Droid (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33749836)

Time to get a new phone. I've waited long enough and Google has shown me nothing that says they're serious about cleaning up the holes in their OS or the app market. See Ya Maldroid.

Re:Bye Bye Droid (1)

tibman (623933) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749934)

Can i buy your phone? serious question. Must accept sim cards and be 3g.

Re:Bye Bye Droid (2, Insightful)

Nocuous (1567933) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750118)

Can i buy your phone? serious question. Must accept sim cards and be 3g.

He doesn't have a phone for you to buy. He's a "magical! revolutionary!" fanboi troll.

A checklist (4, Interesting)

Caerdwyn (829058) | more than 2 years ago | (#33749844)

Rather than a blanket "you can send anything you want anywhere you want/you can send nothing to anywhere" switch, a finer-grained constrained set of permissions may be the way to go. Specifically:

  • Commonly-requested data such as location and phone number are sent through specific APIs that ONLY send the requested info, and cannot send any other data. This data is sent not directly to whatever server, but to servers at the network provider, and the app provider picks them up from the network provider. This prevents arbitrary data from being sent when the claim that it is only a specific piece of data, allows "bad" apps (defined by deception, prohibited use or incomplete disclosure) to be cut off at the network provider when discovered, and allows vetting of outgoing data to ensure it meets the claimed destination.
  • Transaction logs must be kept and be accessible to allow a user to see what's going out. Yes, most end users won't be able to make sense of the logs. But these logs could be uploaded to a security software provider for analysis, and the results presented in an understandable manner. "DroidGameApp: Microphone activated and streamed, GPS info, phone number sent to www.dhs.gov"
  • Information collection by ads should be governed by a different set of permissions than the app presenting the ads. Ad-supported apps are fine, but the user should know what ads are doing on the network independent of the app.

And if an app provider doesn't like the light shone on their activities... that's a pretty good indicator right there.

Re:A checklist (1)

ADRA (37398) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750452)

"Information collection by ads should be governed by a different set of permissions than the app presenting the ads. Ad-supported apps are fine, but the user should know what ads are doing on the network independent of the app."

I think that is the strategy of 'Google ads' being served through apps, but I'm not sure if they've actually done that yet. AdMob (which is now Google as well) definitely needs internet and possibly coarse location if the dev wants to allow for geo sensitive ads. It would be nice to have:

App A relies on feature: AdMob (Google Inc.)
Admob requires:
      [X] FULL_INTERNET
      [ ] (optional) COARSE_GEO_LOCATION

Re:A checklist (1)

blueZ3 (744446) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750810)

I have a sneaking suspicion of collusion between wireless carriers and phone providers, that goes something like:

1. Have developers offer "free" ad-supported apps which helps sell phone
2. Cap bandwidth by which ads are served
3.????
4. Profit !

Re:A checklist (1)

gmurray (927668) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750456)

Problem is that it is hard to lock down what information an app can send out if it makes http requests. The request is itself a transmission of information from the client. You would have to use a much more constrained resource requesting protocol to actually prevent an application from sending sensitive data.

HAHA ! ! They need a Linux-based phone OS !! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33749846)

Like, where's the Linux when yous need it? This Google spy OS is shit !! Why no one makes a Linux OS for phobez?

Re:HAHA ! ! They need a Linux-based phone OS !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33750206)

Foo U buttmunch but android IS linux.

It's only fair... (2, Funny)

DdJ (10790) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750040)

...after all, many more users are leaking Android app data. [slashdot.org]

Re:It's only fair... (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750492)

...after all, many more users are leaking Android app data.

They should see their primary care physician.

Comes with the territory (1)

xednieht (1117791) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750202)

Android gives users and developers a lot more freedom than other alternatives - with that comes responsibility for both parties. If you want a platform where you are told what to, when to do it, and whom you can do it to get an iPhone.

Re:Comes with the territory (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750738)

Or

How about a rating system of "trust" by an independent third party that reviews and establishes what each application that it processes has access to, and what it sends where.

This is a problem that is looking for a solution to be provided. But rather than whining it requires a team of people to implement and market. Hell, I've given you the idea already, and I'm sure there is some money to be made doing it.

Just hire me as consultant when you can.

Re:Comes with the territory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33750778)

Android gives users and developers a lot more freedom than other alternatives - with that comes responsibility for both parties.

So what you are saying is... With great power comes great responsibility?

Prevasive, that's downright preverted! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33750314)

I like the word "prevasive." Sounds like prematurely pervasive or something. How appropriate.

Developers: your customers pay for those services. (1)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750318)

When you incorporate advertising "services" and usage statistic tools into your apps, this is what happens. You get the convenience of "free" tools which make your life easier; either by automatically handling ad imprints (and earning you some money); or by providing you with app usage statistics -- or both.

On the surface you don't pay anything for these tools. They integrate nicely into your app, and you only have to add a few lines of code -- the essence of what good developer's tool should provide. But it's free to you only because you passed the cost along to your users - often without realizing it. In exchange for the convenience provided for you, you've decided that your users' information, attention, viewing habits, and even privacy are fair currency with which to pay for that service.

If you value your customers, do the research before blindly incorporating these "free" tools into your applications.

My thoughts (1)

Xacid (560407) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750336)

"...half were sharing GPS data and phone numbers with advertisers and remote servers."

Two words: DOUCHE.BAGS.

Re:My thoughts (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750770)

and what about the users who download 4 different "FART" applications because they are "funny" (or whatever) that share phone numbers and GPS to advertisers and remote servers?

One Word: 1D10T

This isn't an Android problem (3, Insightful)

Terazilla (1545215) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750460)

I don't get it, why is this being positioned as an Android problem? Last I checked, iPhone apps aren't even required to tell you what data they use in the first place -- is there an iPhone equivalent to the "uses internet access", "uses coarse location services" page that the Android Market displays to you? There's a ton of iPhone, Blackberry, Parlm, etc apps using advertising support, which is what the vast majority of this article is finger-pointing.

Nobody, at any marketplace service, is going to have time to do a code review of everything that gets submitted. Even console games -- which have a months-long and intensely painful approval process the likes of which you've never seen -- don't do code review. The very concept is ridiculous, there's way too much code and way too many people involved. You're going to have to trust your developers folks, and make use of the user-ratings tools if you don't.

Android's model of showing you what special access the software uses is about as good as I think you can get in the real world without learning to use a packet sniffer. RIM's ability to disable individual types of access is cool as well, but if the software needs it to function (or says it does) I'm not sure how the user is supposed to be in a position to use it intelligently. To avoid these sort of data harvesting problems, they'd have to somehow psychically know that the contact manager they're trying out uses that internet access for more than the occasional ad serve, and how would they know that?

Re:This isn't an Android problem (1)

jjohnson (62583) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750686)

When an iDevice app tries to read your location, it requires your permission to access that data. That's enforced by iOS, it's not an honor thing. The first time it tries to do so, iOS pops an alert saying "this app wants to access your location. Allow/Deny".

Simple solution.... (1)

Fallen Kell (165468) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750520)

Add Access Control Lists to the functions/API which grants access to personal data (such as email address, phone numbers/lists, browsing history, GPS location). Since it is an open platform, we can do this ourselves if we want. All applications which attempt to access such data will be verified against the ACL to see if it can receive such information. If the application is not on the ACL, then, the API returns either an error code (which requires the current applications to be recompiled...), or an empty response (either a fake email name, website, or phone number, or GPS coordinates in the south pole).

How do I know what I trust? (1, Insightful)

RocketScientist (15198) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750522)

"We consistently advise users to only install apps they trust."

How the hell am I supposed to know that? Compile and review every line of source myself? Sorry, I have a day job.

Maybe I'll just find some application marketplace where they (1) certify apps are safe and perform well, and (2) don't violate my privacy without sending data around without my permission. That'd be an awesome idea. Some kind of marketplace that would actually verify that the application works on my device, does what it says it does, and behaves itself. That's a service I'd really pay for.

Oh wait, I do pay for that.

Welcome to iPhone.

Re:How do I know what I trust? (1)

GweeDo (127172) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750904)

Even though we have seen applications that say they are flashlights actually enable Phone Tethering get to the App Store? If you really think Apple is going over these things that finely, you are crazy.

Core features of apps == "leaks"? (5, Insightful)

d_engberg (226359) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750552)

The headline doesn't really match the contents of the paper as far as I can tell.
For example, "Evernote" is listed in the paper for:
1) Taking pictures with the camera
2) Recording audio with the microphone
3) Determining your location
And for transmitting this data to its servers.

These functions are, however, exactly what the application is designed for. You take notes (including snapshot notes and voice notes) and upload them to your account. When you launch the app, there are big buttons for "take a snapshot note" , "take an audio note", etc. Geo-tagging via the location APIs can be disabled from the Settings page, but this is another core advertised feature of the product.

So this is a bit like making it into Slashdot by discovering that a mail client transmits text that you type (and your email address!) to a mysterious "SMTP" server.
Headline: "Researchers discover nefarious 'e-mail' application leaking your data ... on the INTERNET!"

Growing trend... (1)

thestudio_bob (894258) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750556)

Personally, I think this is going to be a larger issue as time goes on. Right now, it's more of an annoyance with advertisers and marketing companies, but who's to say that in the near future some other companies don't start providing apps that track users for other reasons.

Could you imagine a company that provides location data for your ex-spouse, or perhaps girlfriend or boyfriend, or even your children? I know this is kind of tin-foil hat paranoia, but I think the recent problems with things like the Google Buzz fiasco, here [slashdot.org] , here [slashdot.org] and here [slashdot.org] , show that good intentions can sometimes have bad consequence.

Weather it be Google, Apple, MS or whomever, they need to enforce policies and procedures that to ensure that their user's personal data is protected. Yeah, its a walled garden, but I think its a neccessary walled garden. I don't mind companies using my location data, but only if I know of it and have approved of it.

Re:Growing trend... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#33750874)

What's paranoid about it? There's a clear monetary incentive and the functionality already exists.

The insane part is the idea, not your apprehensiveness about it.

To take the concept to its logical extreme... We now live in a world where creating a dystopia is not a technological hurdle but a social one.

"If this idea fills you with a deep, religious terror, don't worry. It means only that you are still sane."

Am I the only one who giggled... (1)

gimmebeer (1648629) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750596)

...at the application named 'taintDroid'? I must be really bored today.

It's not 'leaking', it's 'sending' (1)

mveloso (325617) | more than 2 years ago | (#33750840)

The apps aren't leaking information. Leaking implies the information is being sent accidentally.

The apps are taking the information and sending it to whomever intentionally.

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