Advertisers: We Know Where You Are, Thanks to Android

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Your Android phone may be selling you out, as the GPS tracking ability integrated in most of them may be sending your personal information directly to advertisers. Location-based services (LBS) are useful applications that open up a world of information about your immediate surroundings. Your smartphone is always with you, and integrated location awareness can be leveraged by LBS to be helpful. Unfortunately, researchers testing 30 free Android applications discovered that fully half of them were sending the user’s location information to advertisers, including phone numbers.

Duke, Penn State and Intel Labs researchers marked the GPS signals being returned by 30 Android apps chosen at random and discovered that half the apps was sending the location data directly to advertiser networks. Users can prohibit the sharing of personal information at app install time (image, right) but most do not, as doing so can prevent some useful functions an app can provide.

Google has published guidelines to help app developers use data gathered from user’s phones responsibly.  The Android app install mechanism does a better job than other platforms informing the user about what data will be collected by the app, but once the user approves the app, this is often forgotten. As these researchers have discovered, sometimes the sharing of personal information includes third parties, and this act takes on greater significance.

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