Mobile Apps Get Personal

January 22, 2013 ( – Mobile phone applications may be invading your privacy.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute studied both the data gathered by the 100 most popular programs in Google’s Android app store and how surprised users were when told what the apps were doing. Almost no one was surprised that Google Maps accessed location information, for example, but respondents had a strong negative reaction when they learned that the “Brightest Flashlight” app tracked their location, said Jason Hong, an associate professor at school.  

Of the top 100 Android apps, 56 collected location information, device identifiers and/or contact lists, according to the university’s research, NBC News reported. Users, however, often had no idea such data was being collected or how it might be used. For example, 58% of those asked about an app that collected device IDs were unaware that they could be used for marketing purposes; another 55% said the same about GPS location data.    

A list of apps and the data collected by each: 

  • Brightest Flashlight (device ID, location); 
  • Toss It game (device ID, location); 
  • Angry Birds game (device ID, location); 
  • Talking Tom virtual pet (device ID); 
  • Backgrounds HD Wallpapers (device ID, contacts); 
  • (device ID, location); 
  • Mouse Trap game (device ID); 
  • Horoscope (device ID, location); 
  • Shazam music (device ID, location); and 
  • Pandora Internet Radio (device ID, contacts). 
Users who download Android apps are shown a box which indicates what kind of data the app might collect, but multiple studies show that users merely ignore the disclosure, just as they do with website privacy policies.