Are Your Apps Spying on You?

Are Your Apps Spying on You?


How many apps do you have on your phone or tablet at a given time? You have the preloaded bloatware your wireless carrier loves to throw on, all your personally essential apps, and the apps you downloaded to try and forgot about. It’s no big deal, right? You see the GPS icon pop up in your notification bar when you look at your navigation app, social networks, and other location dependent apps. It doesn’t seem like a big deal. You want to get accurate directions, tag your location on Facebook, and check-in at the hottest spot in town. However, your phone apps are polling for your location data far more than you think.

Carnegie Mellon took a look at app location data behavior with a monitoring software. How many times do you think app data would be pinged during a typical two week span? A couple dozen of times? A hundred? Try 5,398, which was the amount one participant had their location data pulled by apps. A high number of location based requests makes sense when you’re using a navigation app, but some of the worst offenders simply had no need to get the information at that frequency. For example, the Groupon app was responsible for over 1,000 location requests during the 2 week study. Do you want a deal app accessing your location that often? It’s a drain on your battery, as well as coming off as fairly invasive. After all, polling location once a week or once a month is sufficient to keep an eye on whether a Groupon member’s location has changed for the deal location.

Groupon is hardly the only app that wants frequent location data without actually needing it at that rate. So the question is, why are your apps spying on you so often? It usually comes down to the dollar signs. Mobile ad networks represent a significant income stream for many apps, especially free apps. The more relevant the ads are, the more likely you are to click them. One way apps keep the advertising relevancy high is via targeted location based ads. Other developers are harvesting the data to use for their own marketing or to sell. Some app developers don’t even realize how invasive and demanding certain code functions are. As apps require more and more permissions during the installation process, you need to figure out where to draw the line in the sand for these apps.