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Some Android Phones Quietly Sending GPS Coordinates to Advertisers

android phoneResearchers from Duke University, Penn State University, and Intel recently got together and did a little digging through the Android marketplace. They chose 30 of the most popular apps, installed them, and then monitored their every move. Half of the apps evaluated were found to be sending private and identifiable information, including GPS coordinates, phone numbers and IMEI numbers back to advertisers. The researchers used a custom-designed app called TaintDroid to monitor the applications, and were disturbed to find GPS coordinates being sent back to ad providers by 15 of the apps in question. Researchers have not outed the 15 offending apps, but you can view the full list of 30 in the report here (PDF).

In a statement issued in response to the report, Google explained the privacy and security features that require explicit permission from users for an app to collect such information. Further, Google said that it offers developers advice on how best to handle customer data. While it's true that any app must ask permission before accessing customer data, the controls are fairly fine grained. An app must ask for access to your location, something you might want to grant a weather app, for instance, but developers don't need to have special permission to then use that data to feed you location-based advertisements. Google also has little power to prevent the abuse of such data, although it reserves the right to remove apps and block developers if they're considered a privacy or security risk.

When compared with the tightly controlled, walled garden of the iPhone, the Android ecosystem can seem like the Wild West. While we understand that Google doesn't wish to throw up unnecessary roadblocks, or irritate users with constant permission dialogs, perhaps the company should require that an app display an explicit warning whenever it plans to send private data to third parties.

Tags: advertising, android, androidmarket, apps, google, gps, privacy, security, smartphone, top

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