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Smartphone apps may be sharing your personal information

Woman on phoneiStock

Researchers from MIT, Harvard, and Carnegie Mellon found that apps downloaded from Google Play or the Apple Store may be sharing personal information with third parties, with Android apps spying more than iOS apps.

Of the 110 apps the researchers tested, 73% of Android apps shared personal information like email addresses, and 47% of iOS apps shared location information.

Here’s the breakdown the types of information your apps are sharing:

  • Android apps were far more likely to share personally identifying information, like your name, than iOS apps (73% of Android apps vs. 16% for iOS apps).
  • iOS apps were more likely (at 47%) to share geo-coordinates than Android apps (33%).
  • Three out of 10 apps under the “Medical Health and Fitness” category share medically related search terms. That means if you searched about Herpes, well, that’s a known thing now.

The third party domains receiving sensitive data are fairly predictable: two Google domains (Google.com and Googleapis.com), Apple, and Facebook.

The study selected popular free apps from Google Play and the iOS app store and used them for 10 to 20 minutes to compile the information.

So what have your apps been sharing? Those interested can play around with the interactive feature to find out, but to give you a sample:

  • Instagram on iOS sends your location to Apple.com; birthday, email, location, and gender to Facebook.com; and your location to yahooapis.com. Instagram on Android sends your email to google.com; and your address, email, and name to googleapis.com.
  • Fruit Ninja on iOS sends your medical info to amazon.com; your name, email, and username to apple.com; and your location to beintoo.com and zigi.com
  • Google Earth on Android sends your search and location to ggpht.com; and your address, zip code, friend, search, and location to google.com

So what can you do about it? The study notes that there are tools that can protect your privacy by sending false data to satisfy permission requests from apps, though the ones provided only work on Android. Mockdroid is a modified version of the Android operating system, and TISSA and AppFence are two tools that implement privacy modes on Android phones.

Tech Insider reached out to Apple and Google for comment and will update with any response we receive.

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