Caution: Smartphone App

The increasing prevalence of smartphones is making it possible to exploit geographical data in ever more extensive ways. GPS sensors that are present in almost all mobile devices make it possible to connect geographical and personal data with each other. Advertisers are using this to create more specific user profiles, and letting data privacy fall by the wayside in the process. This was the finding of a study conducted by the Vienna-based Austrian Academy of Sciences on behalf of the Federal Chamber of Labor.

SMS app transmits location, gender, age, and phone ID

The study examined a number of different apps, revealing the at times blatant data-hoarding behavior among certain providers. The app “Paper Toss” is a simple game of skill, where the user tries to throw a ball of paper in a wastebasket. Geographical data doesn’t seem to be necessary here. Nevertheless, researchers found that the app delivers the user’s location along with the unique phone ID to five international advertising networks.

According to the study, this is not an isolated incident. The same data collection was unearthed in an alarm clock app. And in addition to location, an app for short messages also sends gender, age, and phone ID directly to seven advertising networks.

The verdict of the Austrian Academy of Sciences was harsh: Some apps simply ought to be described as facades that were only created to disguise the real purpose – data collection.

Insufficient privacy policies

Data privacy policies for many devices are insufficient to enforce the governing law. Preference settings are often inadequate, and it is becoming more and more difficult for users to oversee the extent to which legal parameters are being upheld.

Researchers say the EU should be responsible for enforcing the relevant standards and monitoring them. In addition, they call for better privacy management possibilities for users and “Privacy by Design” – a deeper establishment of consumer rights in the architecture and construction of hardware and software for mobile devices.