17,000 Android Applications Discovered To Track User Activities on 100 Million Smartphones

The International Computer Science Institute report referenced by CNET reveals that almost 17,000 Android apps have been able to obtain identifying information from about 100 million smartphones. The data which consist of the activity of users is then sold to advertising companies which goes against Google’s policy for culling advertising data.

Privacy Issues From the Use of Android Applications

Per the report, Android users are no longer in control of the type of information that can be retrieved from their smartphone. This is because almost 17,000 Android apps can link the Advertising ID with the smartphone’s hardware information which cannot be changed. The hardware information includes the IMEI, MAC address, and the Android ID which makes it easy to track people’s activities on their phone.
The Advertising ID in question is a resettable ID that is unique to every smartphone. Reports reveal that Google only permits developers to access the Ad ID without linking it to the hardware information. In an event where the hardware ID needs to be tracked as well, Google only allows developers to obtain it after the user has sought consent.

A List of Applications That Track Identifying Information

Despite this prohibition, a majority of the 17,000 Android applications are still tracking users using their smartphone’s identifying information. Some of these apps which were pointed out are Audiobooks by Audible and Flipboard, and Angry Birds Classic. Others are Clean Master, Cheetah Keyboard, Battery Doctor, as well as the utilities developed by Cheetah Mobile.
It is believed that the data that is culled from these smartphones are sold to advertising services. On the other hand, Google only permits hardware identifiers and the Android ID to be collected for purposes such as fraud detection, but not to target ads. That being the case, developers of such apps have been prohibited from tracking identifiers while in the process of obtaining the Advertising IDs.
A Google Spokesperson who made comments confirmed this by saying:

Combining Ad ID with device identifiers for the purpose of ads personalization is strictly forbidden. We’re constantly reviewing apps

Google Takes Measures to Prevent Data Tracking

To prevent these data tracking activities, CNET revealed that after Google investigated the Egelman’s report (which outlines that 6,000 children apps are tracking data), they took actions on some of these applications. Nevertheless, it is still uncertain which apps were affected and what measures were taken to prevent these operations in the future.
BTCNN on January 31 also reported that Apple had blocked Facebook applications such as Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram on its iOS devices. The social media company was said to have bypassed Apple to distribute a data tracking application on these devices. According to Apple, the block was to protect its users since the app’s operation is a breach of contract.

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