“The harvesting and sharing of data by mobile phone apps is out of control”
-Researchers at Oxford University
A paper published on 18th October by researchers at Oxford University revealed that 90% of Google play store apps are harvesting user data and subsequently sharing it with companies like Alphabet, Twitter, Facebook, and many others. The study points out the presence of third-party trackers on nearly one million (959,000) apps from the US and UK Google Play stores.
The statistics are unsettling. Around 88% of this data is handed over to ‘Alphabet’- Google’s parent company. Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook and others follow suite. Here is how they fair:
These third-party trackers were mostly prevalent in news apps and apps aimed at children and young adults. By tracking users data- which includes information like age, location, gender, buying habits, and other miscellaneous information- companies can form a profile of users. This can then be used to send target specific ads, influence a user’s buying habits or even send political campaign messages.
Considering that these trackers were hugely present in apps related to children, the paper states that allowing profiling of children without attempting to obtain parental consent, is downright unlawful.
Even though there are tracker blocking software available for mobile and web, these primarily cannot control the tracking software embedded on an app’s OS. The privacy settings for an app are focussed on more specific app permissions like contact sharing, location sharing etc.
In response to this research, a Google spokesman said in a statement to Business Insider “Across Google and in Google Play, we have clear policies and guidelines for how developers and third-party apps can handle data and we require developers to be transparent and ask for user permission.” Further, they added, “If an app violates our policies, we take action.”
Google also added that the researchers had “mischaracterized” some of the app’s basic functions to reach their conclusion.
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