Nowhere To Hide On Line From Data Harvesters

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Written By Saeed Maleki

There’s nowhere to hide online if you search with Google or tap into an Android app on a smartphone.

Researchers say data harvesting by Google – which owns Android as well – is out of control.

Phone apps share their data with Google parent company Alphabet, which utilises the information to profile targets for advertising.

The study, by a research team at Oxford University, found that 90% of free Android apps on Google Play in the USA and Britain share data with Alphabet.

The details include location, age, gender, search details, links clicked from a search and a list of other apps installed on a smartphone.

Privacy controls

“This paper presents an empirical study of the prevalence of third-party trackers on 959,000 apps from the US and UK Google Play stores. We find that most apps contain third party tracking, and the distribution of trackers is long-tailed with several highly dominant trackers accounting for a large portion of the coverage,” said the study Third Party Tracking in the Mobile Ecosystem.

Google is trying to calm protests by moving privacy controls from hidden pages to the search page – but that doesn’t mean less data is collected unless users make the effort to limit what the internet giant can see.

“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.  If an app violates our policies, we take action,” said Google.

Children targeted

The study also revealed news apps and those aimed at children were the worst data harvesting offenders.

“ This business model is primarily enabled through ‘third-party’ trackers, which track users via ‘first-party’ mobile applications, whose developers embed their technology into application source code,” said the report.

“Such networks link activity across multiple apps to a single user, and link to their activities on other devices or mediums like the web. This enables construction of detailed profiles about individuals, which could include inferences about shopping habits, socio-economic class or likely political opinions.

“These profiles can then be used for a variety of purposes, from targeted advertising to credit scoring and targeted political campaign messages.”