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Pandora's mobile app transmits 'mass quantities' of user data

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A free smartphone app provided by internet radio service Pandora supplies advertisers with enough user information for them to compile detailed snapshots of those who use it, researchers who analyzed the software have said.

Tuesday's report, titled Mobile Apps Invading Your Privacy and issued by software analysis firm Veracode, found that Pandora's app tracked users' age, sex, zip code and precise geographic location, which in many cases was updated in a continuous loop. The app then sent such information to servers operated by advertising services including AdMarvel and AdMob. Other information that was shared included the phone's device ID and the user's birth date.

The report follows Monday's revelation that federal prosecutors are investigating whether smartphone apps have been illegally collecting information about handset users without proper disclosures. Pandora has said it received a subpoena in the matter and believes other app providers have, as well.

If Veracode's findings are correct, they could provide plenty of fodder to investigators.

“It means your personal information is being transmitted to advertising agencies in mass quantities,” Veracode's Tyler Shields wrote.

He continued:

In isolation some of this data is uninteresting, but when compiled into a single unifying picture, it can provide significant insight into a person's life. Consider for a moment that your current location is being tracked while you are at your home, office, or significant other's house. Couple that with your gender and age and then with your geolocated IP address. When all that is placed into a single basket, it's pretty easy to determine who someone is, what they do for a living, who they associate with, and any number of other traits about them. I don't know about you, but that feels a little Orwellian to me.

A spokeswoman for the California-based company declined to comment until after a pending initial public offering is completed.

The report focused solely on Pandora's app for phones running Google's Android operating system. It found that the app is bundled with code libraries offered by five services, which in addition to AdMarvel and AdMob, include comScore, Google.Ads, and Medialets.

Pandora's audience has doubled to more than 80 million listeners, thanks to the popularity of its iPhone app, USA Today reported in January. Veracode's report made no reference to that app, presumably because of the closed nature of Apple's iOS. ®

This story was updated to reflect Veracode's reporting that personally identifiable information is sent to AdMarvel and AdMob. According to the report, comScore receives hashed information.

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