Denying Permissions May Not Stop Android Apps From Tracking Your Phone

Denying Permissions May Not Stop Android Apps From Tracking Your Phone”

Researchers have found more than 1,000 Android apps that skirt around data protection restrictions that "protect" consumer privacy, collecting data even when users deny permission to the app to access their information.

While the researchers first presented the study at the FTC PrivacyCon last month, there now isn't a full list of the offending apps.

The researchers disclosed their findings to both the FTC and Google (receiving a bug bounty for their efforts), though the latter stated a fix would only be coming in the full release of Android Q, according to CNET. However, researchers say that thousands of apps have discovered ways to cheat Android's permissions system, phoning home your device's distinctive identifier and enough data to doubtlessly reveal your location as well. Google will hide location information in photos from apps. For example, around 13 of the apps researched piggybacked off of other apps to get access to user data.

"Fundamentally, consumers have very few tools and cues that they can use to reasonably control their privacy and make decisions about it".

If you explicitly inform an Android app, "No, you don't have permission to track my phone", you probably anticipate that it won't have abilities that let it do that.

The second one is called "covert channels", which is short speak for apps that have a clever or unorthodox way to share user information with apps that don't have the same permissions.

They also noticed apps using "covert channels" to snag info: third-party code libraries developed by a pair of Chinese companies secretly used the SD card as a storage point for the user's IMEI number.

The unauthorized access to user data also involves access to the actual Global Positioning System coordinates of the device and geolocation data; the Shutterfly app has been found sharing geolocation data back to its servers. It also added that it used that data to "enhance the user experience".

So when we have denied the various apps access to our personal data, the apps will somehow still access our data. Last year, AP reported that Google had been continuing to store user location data, even in cases where users had turned off the "Location History' feature". This will happen next month when he presents the report again, this time at the Usenix Security conference.

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