Spying apps? The private info your apps may be collecting and how it's used

A study conducted by Northeastern University in Boston found no evidence that the apps on your phone are secretly recording you.

Computer Science Professor David Choffnes and team of researchers tested 17,000 apps across 10 different Android phones.


The phones were connected to a computer that simulated how a person would use each app.  The computer logged all the data the app collected and the way it went about doing it.

Prof. Choffnes says the yearlong study did not find any evidence of apps covertly accessing a person’s camera and/or microphone, but they did discover other shady activity.

“When I started looking I started to see some suspicious things.” Choffnes told Boston 25 News Reporter Ted Daniel.

Professor Choffnes discovered one photo-editing app that automatically sends every picture it receives to the Cloud, creating a permanant archive of the photo, even if the photo is eventually deleted by the user.

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Choffnes says the app makes no mention of the practice in its terms of service.

Another app did something even more sneaky.  It screen-records your activity on its platform, and then shares the recording with a third-party analytics site.

“Not only is this creepy on the face of it, but also, sometimes these recordings contain personal information," Choffnes said. "As your typing your password, you see each letter show up for a split second before it turns to a black dot.  They can record that as well."

Helaine Snyder, a frequent user of apps, said she'd want consent when it comes to recording screens.

“I would want to be asked," Snyder said. "Maybe I would say go ahead, but you want the option to say no if it's not.”

In the end, Professor Choffnes warned about the dangers of downloading free apps.

“The kind of advice I give is, think twice when installing an app that is free," Choffnes said. "If it's free, they are monetizing you somehow, and so it’s important to think about how they might be monetizing you and whether you actually need to use that app.”