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The Apps That Know Everything About You

Published: December 31, 2014
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Source: Vocative

We reached out to Jason Hong, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon and founder of PrivacyGrade.org, a site that ranks apps by how well they respect your personal privacy. Hong is a leading researcher on app security. So we asked him: What do the most downloaded apps know about us, and what do they do with that information?

Hong helped us run an analysis of these apps– and you can see the results in the chart below. We chose to focus on Android apps for a couple of reasons. First, there are about a billion Android users, which gives them about 62 percent of the smartphone market, compared with Apple’s 33 percent. Second, Android, unlike Apple, makes it easy to run a robot to retrieve the permission data easily. But our findings are relevant for any mobile phone user—it’s a barometer of what app makers think they can get away with.

App Name

# of Permissions  Contacts  Text Messages  Microphone  Call Log
AntiVirus Security 44  
Viber 42
Facebook 39
360 Security - Antivirus 39  
Tango Messenger, Video & Calls 36
WhatsApp Messenger 32    
Skype - free IM & video calls 32  
GO Launcher EX 31    
WeChat 30  
CM Security- AppLock&AntiVirus 29  
Waze Social GPS Maps & Traffic 29    
BBM 28    
Facebook Messenger 27  
LINE: Free Calls & Messages 27  
Clean Master Phone Boost 23        
Battery Doctor (Battery Saver) 23        
DU Battery Saver & Widgets 23        
Chrome Browser - Google 19      
Twitter 17      
Maps 16      
Instagram 14    
YouTube 14        
Dolphin Browser for Android 14      
Castle Clash 14        
Trivia Crack 13    

´╗┐As you’ll see from our chart, running down the left side, we’ve listed 25 of some of the most popular apps in the Google Play store, including Skype, Facebook and WhatsApp. There are actually about 60 permissions that these apps can ask for—everything from making your phone vibrate to accessing your camera. (You can find a full list of all the potential permissions here.) For practical reasons, we asked Hong to highlight four permissions that he thought were potentially the most alarming. Across the top, we list those four: contacts, text messages, call log and microphone. All of these are pretty straightforward, but the microphone permission is especially eerie. Imagine all the audio around you being recorded by some app, without your knowledge.

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