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Smartphone Apps Are Recording Your Conversations and Filming You Without Notification

By: Jackson Hayes

January 08, 2013 - 11:46 CST

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Android applications are granted shockingly intrusive permissions, causing strong privacy breaches.

Users owning smartphones and tablets running Google’s Android operating system may not realize that installed applications can maliciously access private data, record conversations and take photographs at any time, without confirmation.

Current terms of agreement force smartphone users to consent to their information, location and identity being revealed to third party application providers, at any time. App companies demand the right to confidential information before allowing a user to access an app, which may not have been free.

The application description on Google Play (formerly known as the Android Market) lists the permissions the app will be granted upon installation.

Shockingly, applications may be using millions of devices around the world to record private conversations.

If you chose not to accept the terms in the interest of protecting your privacy, the expensive device is essentially rendered useless. Smartphones are dependent on third-party applications.

Many device owners would barely even glance at the terms before downloading an application for their cell phone or tablet. Users may not even be aware that the apps they use every day could be breaching their privacy, cataloguing confidential information.

Popular social networking applications such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have permission to access the aforementioned data at any time, without confirmation, on top of retrieving the precise location of the device.

Even some games require users to grant the application intrusive access before playing it.

Many apps demand to access the following permissions prior to installation:

TAKE PICTURES AND VIDEOS

Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.

RECORD AUDIO

Allows the app to record audio with the microphone. This permission allows the app to record audio at any time without your confirmation.

READ YOUR CONTACTS

Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your tablet, including the frequency with which you've called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals. This permission allows apps to save your contact data, and malicious apps may share contact data without your knowledge. Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you've called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals. This permission allows apps to save your contact data, and malicious apps may share contact data without your knowledge.

READ PHONE STATUS AND IDENTITY

Allows the app to access the phone features of the device. This permission allows the app to determine the phone number and device IDs, whether a call is active, and the remote number connected by a call.

 

These permissions allow application developers to breach user’s privacy. Surprisingly, these revelations have avoided media attention and the privacy debate. It’s already well known that mobile devices have been tracking user’s locations by utilising GPS technology; however these permissions allow companies unquestioned access to private data.

Criminals could publish applications with the disguised purpose of stealing identities. They could be aware of your location any time of the day and track your private messages and conversations to learn everything about you.

The majority of applications on the Android store require permissions to override device settings and configurations before installation, as well as access to device peripherals and stored data.

There are approximately 1 billion smartphone units in use around the world, and 6 billion mobile subscribers. Corporations have realised the importance of capitalising on this large, growing market. Smartphone use continues to grow worldwide, and privacy concerns for users will likely be a constant issue.

Last year, mobile security experts demonstrated how an Android application could secretly copy all the photos on a device to a remote web server, without the user ever knowing. All the app would require is permission to access the internet; no special permission is needed for an app to read pictures.

There could be hundreds of malicious applications available on Google Play taking advantage of unsuspecting users.  The thought of developers tracking and photographing users is absolutely shocking, and leaves me perturbed.  There is no telling what information is in the hands of hackers retrieved from my smartphone.

Thankfully, there are some steps you can take to protect your information and privacy.

Always check what permissions the app will be granted upon installation. Pay attention to permissions that seem suspicious. For example, why should a game require permission to access and send text messages?

These obvious privacy breaches have managed to fly under the radar of media attention. Google needs to address and revamp the permission system so it is easier to understand and protects users. It’s not a great feeling to find an app you installed has taken over your phone, monitoring you at all times.

Jackson Hayes

Jackson Hayes is a games reporter for NextGenUpdate.

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