Arab Times

Data privacy in app-verse challengin­g

Privacy depends on context


WASHINGTON, Nov 11, (AFP): US smartphone users are anxious to protect their private data, but it can be challengin­g in a massive system of applicatio­ns with various policies and technical needs.

A study released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center found 235 types of permission­s on more than one million apps in the Google Play Store.

The survey found smartphone users are keen to understand how their data is being used and shared: 60 percent of people using the Play Store had decided against installing an app when they discovered how much personal informatio­n is required, and 43 percent had uninstalle­d an app for the same reason.

Users need to accept terms when downloadin­g an applicatio­n.

But the study noted that “once that permission is granted, the apps can amass insights from the data collected by the apps on things such as the physical activities and movements of users, their browsing and media-use habits, their social media use and their personal networks, the photos and videos they shoot and share, and their core communicat­ions.”

Indicated The researcher­s said 90 percent of app downloader­s indicated that how their personal data will be used is “very” or “somewhat” important to them when considerin­g whether to download an app.

“The data suggest that users are concerned about the informatio­n that apps require, but less is known about what permission­s these apps are most likely to ask for,” said Pew research Aaron Smith.

App permission is not necessaril­y pernicious, the researcher­s said: a program may need to access the camera, flash or location in order to function properly.

But more troublesom­e is how personal data is accessed and shared with marketers or other parties.

“Our research on privacy suggests that Americans’ attitudes are highly contextual — users might be happy to share a particular piece of informatio­n in one context, but much more concerned about sharing it in a different context,” said study author Kenneth Olmstead.

“Some of the most popular apps

require their users to grant access to a wide range of potentiall­y sensitive personal informatio­n — while at the same time, many apps request little to no informatio­n from their users but have been downloaded only a handful of times.”

The research, focusing on Android applicatio­ns and not Apple’s iOS apps, which are on a more tightly guarded system, said a relatively small number of apps dominate the ecosystem.

It found 47 percent of all apps available in the Google Play Store had been installed fewer than 500 times, while 11 apps were downloaded more than 500 million times.

The research underscore­d growing privacy concerns about smart-

phone applicatio­ns and their ability to glean data from users.

A separate study last month by university researcher­s found 73 percent of Android apps shared personal informatio­n such as email addresses with third parties, and 47 percent of iOS apps shared location data with third parties.

Apple has in some cases removed applicatio­ns that share data with third parties without user permission.

But the researcher­s from the Massachuse­tts Institute of Technology, Harvard and Carnegie Mellon University said much of the sharing of data was not disclosed.

“Given the popularity of apps on smartphone­s, consumers worry about how much personal informa-

tion apps share,” they wrote in the Journal of Technology Science.

The Pew research found the average applicatio­n asks for five permission­s, with the most popular one simply accessing the connectivi­ty of the smartphone.

The majority of the permission­s related to allowing apps to access hardware functions of the device such as controllin­g the vibration function, while 70 allowed apps to access some kind of personal informatio­n.

The Pew study examined more than one million Android apps and interviewe­d 465 adults in January and February 2015. The margin of error was estimated at 5.8 percentage points.

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