Feeds

University boffins build snoop-spotting snitch app

Mobile tool detects when apps are pulling location data

A new approach to endpoint data protection

University researchers have developed a smartphone app to show users how often their mobile software tracks their movements.

The team from Rutgers University said that the their Android tool uses a real-time monitoring system to show exactly when an application pulls locational information and transmits it. The results, they say, were eye-opening for many users.

"Our results confirm that the Android platform’s location access disclosure method does not inform participants effectively," the team wrote. "Almost all participants pointed out that their location was accessed by several apps they would have not expected to access their location."

To track the information, the researchers created a tool which logs and reports requests for access to user location information such as current and previous locations. When the application seeks permission to access the data, the research tool would inform users via an alert.

While many Android applications provide various ways of informing the user of locational tracking, such as the presence of a menu icon, the researchers argue that their tool demonstrates that many users do not properly notice or understand what the icons mean.

To prove their point, the Rutgers team offered results of a campus experiment which placed users with the tracking notification software against Android users without the tool. Results of the test, they say, showed that the users with the alert tool were better informed about application tracking behaviors and were more likely to understand how individual apps were handling their data.

That the additional tools are needed to properly understand what applications are doing is an indictment of the way Android handles locational tracking, say the researchers.

"Our work confirms the existing research literature that Android permissions are not an effective method for disclosing and consenting for location data access," the Rutgers team said of its findings.

"Our results showed that the existing location access disclosure mechanism on the Android platform, the flashing GPS icon, was not effective to inform users of apps’ location accesses. Nearly all participants in the two groups had some apps they did not expect to access their location."

The team hopes that the work will serve as an eye-opener to both users and developers about the need for better privacy management and reporting tools. They noted that in addition to better reporting of tracking access, users should be offered additional controls on when and how their mobile applications can access their locational data.

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration

More from The Register

next story
PEAK LANDFILL: Why tablet gloom is good news for Windows users
Sinofsky's hybrid strategy looks dafter than ever
Leaked Windows Phone 8.1 Update specs tease details of Nokia's next mobes
New screen sizes, dual SIMs, voice over LTE, and more
Fiendishly complex password app extension ships for iOS 8
Just slip it in, won't hurt a bit, 1Password makers urge devs
Mozilla keeps its Beard, hopes anti-gay marriage troubles are now over
Plenty on new CEO's todo list – starting with Firefox's slipping grasp
Apple: We'll unleash OS X Yosemite beta on the MASSES on 24 July
Starting today, regular fanbois will be guinea pigs, it tells Reg
Another day, another Firefox: Version 31 is upon us ALREADY
Web devs, Mozilla really wants you to like this one
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
Cloudy CoreOS Linux distro declares itself production-ready
Lightweight, container-happy Linux gets first Stable release
prev story

Whitepapers

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?