How Your Smartphone is Keeping Track of You: Apps Secretly Monitor Users

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Drawback? Most programmes for smartphones, such as this iPhone, send data back to companies that sold them

Dozens of popular iPhone apps are secretly monitoring users and sending information back to companies – who then use it to target them with adverts.

More than half of the programmes and games for smartphones sent data back to the private companies once they had been downloaded, a study found.

The apps include the wildly popular Angry Birds game and music identifying software Shazam, which comes pre-installed on every iPhone.

Armed with this information firms including Google track the individuals’ movements and sell personalised adverts for which they can make more money than regular ones.

The study found that of 101 apps tested, 56 transmitted the phone’s individual number to a private company in some way, known as the Unique Device Identifier or UDID.

Some 47 sent the phone’s location and five sent age, gender and other personal information.

More data was sent back about a user’s location on the Apple’s iPhone than Google’s Android smartphone, the research discovered, even though both companies have promised not to let such practices take place.

The research was carried out in the U.S. but it would apply to users downloading apps from anywhere in the world.

Michael Becker of the U.S. based Mobile Marketing Association said the advantage of mobile phones for advertisers is that they are ‘always with us.

‘It’s always on,’ he said. ‘In the world of mobile, there is no anonymity,’ he said.

The research by the Wall St Journal found that smartphone users had no way of stopping the tracking, unlike on a computer where you can disabled the monitoring software, known as ‘cookies’.

Typical of the problem was Angry Birds which sent the phone’s UDID to the game’s makers Electronic Arts.

Pandora, the popular music app, sent gender, location age and the phone ID to a string of advertising networks.

Android and iPhone versions of a game called Paper Toss, where players try to throw paper wads into a bin, each sent the phone’s ID number to at least five ad companies.

Apps became wildly popular with the advent of smartphones and when Apple opened its App store in 2008. Now more than 300,000 are available.

Google’s equivalent on the Android has more than 100,000 apps.

Worldwide app sales are estimated at £4.3billion.

A Google spokesman admitted its AdMob wing targets adverts based on information gleaned from apps.

He said: ‘Our focus is making sure that users have control over what apps they install, and notice of what information the app accesses’.

Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr said: ‘We have created strong privacy protections for our customers, especially regarding location-based data,’ adding that ‘privacy and trust are vitally important’.

Chillingo said it does not share any information with outsiders.

By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 8:17 AM on 20th December 2010

Source: The Daily Mail

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