Duke University students have created a program to track and notify them when Android smartphone apps share their personal info without consent.
Their app is called "TaintDroid", so named because it puts a non-removable "taint" on the data that is asked for by a great many of the fun, sexy, and just plain weird apps out there. TaintDroid then keeps tabs on all of the applications on the phone, and reports to the user not only when their information is being shared with a third party, but where exactly it is going.
Often, a cute new Android game or funny social media app will ask for details such as date of birth or full name, and if the user declines to provide such info, the app cannot be used. Once a user deems that an app is "safe" - perhaps because it is from a reputable provider - and gives out their info, they are often not made aware of just how and when that data will be utilized.
In a study of 30 randomly selected free and popular Android apps, the Duke team found that half of them were sending owners data to marketing companies without their consent and 2/3 of them were using the data in ambiguous ways.
For example, one of the researchers had his TanitDroid notify him that his phone number, IMEI and sim card identifier had all been send to an advertising server in China without his consent, and while the Duke app was able to tell him what had happened, it was not able to prevent it.
These apps: they could be stealing your data.
Oh, and that's not all, folks. Many applications which use GPS as a part of their functionality were also found to be suspect, transmitting ongoing streams of GPS data - sometimes as often as every 30 seconds - to companies even when the app was not in use.
This doesn't mean that all Droid apps are suddenly unsafe or riddled with phone-crippling and lifestyle-ruining data traps, but it does mean that users should be careful. The current social media climate includes the warm winds of "share everything with everyone", but that breeze is going to turn real cold real fast when too much info gets to the wrong people.
The Duke study and app are a step in the right direction, but 'taint nuthin' that's gonna fix the whole app shebang.