Posts Tagged ‘Google Inc.’

Smartphone apps mine, forward personal data

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Your smartphone is spying on you and peddling the information to advertising companies, the Wall Street Journal said Saturday.

The WSJ tested 101 popular smartphone “apps” – games and other software applications for iPhone and Android phones – and found that 56 transmitted the phone’s unique device ID – effectively a “supercookie” that cannot be erased, the article says –  to other companies without the  users’ awareness or consent. Forty-seven apps transmitted the phone’s location. Five sent the user’s age, gender and other personal details to outsiders.

Examples the WSJ cites include TextPlus 4, a popular iPhone app for text messaging, which sent the phone’s unique ID number to eight ad companies and the phone’s ZIP code, along with the user’s age and gender, to two of the ad companies; and the music app Pandora, which sent age, gender, location and phone identifiers to various ad networks. Grindr, an iPhone app for meeting gay men, sent gender, location and phone ID to three ad companies.

Because of the test’s size, it’s not known if the pattern – more than half of apps sharing info – holds among the hundreds of thousands of apps available, the newspaper says.

The article has the “we care about our customers” statements you’d expect from iPhone maker Apple Inc. and Android maker Google Inc. But, “‘In the world of mobile, there is no anonymity,’ says Michael Becker of the Mobile Marketing Association, an industry trade group. A cellphone is ‘always with us. It’s always on.'”

Why does this  matter? “The main companies setting ground rules for app data-gathering have big stakes in the ad business,” the WSJ says. “The two most popular platforms for new U.S. smartphones are Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android. Google and Apple also run the two biggest services, by revenue, for putting ads on mobile phones.

“Apple and Google ad networks let advertisers target groups of users. Both companies say they don’t track individuals based on the way they use apps.”

And, “Ad sales on phones account for less than 5 percent of the $23 billion in annual Internet advertising. But spending on mobile ads is growing faster than the market overall.

“Central to this growth: the ad networks whose business is connecting advertisers with apps. Many ad networks offer software ‘kits’ that automatically insert ads into an app. The kits also track where users spend time inside the app.”

The WSJ says it tested its own iPhone app, btw, and it did not send out data.