Statistics from a new study have revealed that over 70 percent of the mobile apps we use are covertly collecting and submitting personal data to third-party entities users’ expressed consent.
While it is common for some apps to request permission to access personal information and to use components such as the GPS tracker and the microphone, a lot of information collected by some of these applications is not necessarily crucial to their proper functioning and, as the report has concluded, the information is only collected for the sole purposes of being sold to third-party tracking firms such as Crashlytics, Google Analytics and Facebook’s Graph API.
This could be a serious threat to internet security.
Breach of Personal Internet Security
While none of the researched applications displayed any malicious behavior such as accessing applications and hardware components without being granted permissions, they still pose a significant risk to the internet security of every individual.
It would not be considered bizarre if an application such as Instagram requested permissions to access your phone’s GPS since the app comes with a geotagging feature allowing users to attach a location to their posts.
However, utilitarian applications such as flashlight apps should not necessarily be granted access to information such as your browsing history or even your microphone.
Granting permissions to mobile apps without performing the necessary scrutiny as to what they’re requesting (as we often do) effectively puts our internet security at risk, especially since some applications may relay your personal information to not-so-friendly third-party entities.
Furthermore, once an app has been permitted to collect personal information, there is no way to prevent it from relaying it to third-party companies that use the data for tracking and advertising purposes.
The conflict is significant in this case because while the app cannot function properly without being granted certain permissions, it also poses a threat to the user’s internet security.
Lumen Privacy Monitor
To show users of Android and iOS smartphones just how intensively some mobile apps pose serious threats to their online security, a group of researchers from University of California-Berkeley and IMDEA Networks created an Android app that allows users to monitor and determine which apps are putting their internet security at risk.
The free Android app, Lumen Privacy Monitor, works by analyzing app traffic to determine which applications actively collect and relay personal information to third-party companies.
Lumen is a highly transparent app, since it allows users to see not only which apps are threatening their internet security by collecting personal data but also where the collected information is being sent.
The app is engineered to monitor and to present the hidden activities of applications that may threaten your internet security.
However, the researchers also mentioned that Lumen Privacy Monitor collects non-sensitive information and relays its observations to the Institute.
This has aided the researchers to distinguish between the apps that pose a significant risk to internet security and those that simply require certain permissions to function properly.
Some Apps Have Been Linked to 5+ Trackers
Granting Lumen this unique access has also allowed the researchers to study exactly how users’ personal data is created. From about 1,600 downloads, they have managed to conduct analyses on over 5,000 apps.
In addition to that, statistics from the internet security app has helped them unearth 598 websites believed to track users and collect information for advertising purposes.
Within this list of websites, Facebook, Google and Yahoo were ranked high, followed closely with ISPs such as Verizon Wireless.
Of the 5,000 apps that were studied in the research, more than 70 percent were found to be linked to at least one third-party tracker while about 15 percent of them were linked to five or more third-party trackers.
What was unanimous was that the volume of personal data being relayed from the apps to these third-party trackers was significant enough to pose a threat on the internet security of any individual.
Internet security gurus say that cross-device tracking could also threaten users’ privacy in the future.
This is because it enables trackers to keep tabs on people entirely through the websites they visit. Not only is this a major breach of privacy; the collected data can also be used to create complete profiles of web users without their knowledge or consent.