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.
||# of Permissions||Contacts||Text Messages||Microphone||Call Log|
|360 Security - Antivirus||39|
|Tango Messenger, Video & Calls||36|
|Skype - free IM & video calls||32|
|GO Launcher EX||31|
|CM Security- AppLock&AntiVirus||29|
|Waze Social GPS Maps & Traffic||29|
|LINE: Free Calls & Messages||27|
|Clean Master Phone Boost||23|
|Battery Doctor (Battery Saver)||23|
|DU Battery Saver & Widgets||23|
|Chrome Browser - Google||19|
|Dolphin Browser for Android||14|
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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