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Three quarters of Android apps track users with third-party trackers

Android apps track users

More than 75% of Android apps track users' habits with third-party "trackers": the analysis of Exodus Privacy and Privacy Lab Yale University.

More than three Android apps out of four contain at least one third-party "tracker", according to a new analysis of hundreds of apps, in short 75% of the Android app track users, their habits and their activities

Android Apps track users

The study conducted by the French research organization Exodus Privacy and the Yale University Privacy Lab analyzed the Android mobile apps in search of the signatures of 25 known trackers, who use various techniques to collect personal informations on users to better target advertising and services.

Here are the Android apps that track users

Android apps track users

Among the Android apps that use some sort of monitoring plug-in there are some of the most popular apps on Google Play Store, including Tinder, Spotify, Uber and OKCupid. All four apps use a service owned by Google, called Crashlytics, which mainly tracks reports on app crashes, but can also provide the ability to "get information about users, what they are doing and send social live content".

What the App can track

Other less common trackers can go much further: one quoted by Yale FidZup, a French monitoring provider with technology able to "detect the presence of mobile phones and therefore of their owners" using ultrasonic tones. FidZup says it no longer uses this technology, however, since tracking users through simple WiFi networks works just as well.

The most aggressive trackers

Yale researchers said that FidZup's practices closely resemble those of Teemo (formerly known as Databerries), the tracker company that was involved in a scandal earlier this year for investigating the geolocation of 10 million citizens French and SafeGraph, which collected data on the location of smartphones during Thanksgiving last year. Both of these trackers have been profiled by Privacy Lab and can be identified by Exodus scans.

Ensure privacy with the apps that track users

The Yale University Privacy Lab intends to use this research to push developers and Google "towards greater transparency in privacy and security practices"

Researchers added that users of Android apps and users of all app stores deserve a reliable chain of software development, distribution and installation that does not include unknown or masked third-party code.

"Scholars, privacy advocates and security researchers should be alarmed by the data and can provide further analysis now that these results and the Exodus platform have been made public"Yale laboratory researchers said.

Apps that track users, even in iOS

Although Yale has not reviewed the iOS apps, the company warns that the situation may not be better in Apple's App Store. "Many of the same companies that distribute Google Play apps also distribute apps through Apple and tracker companies openly advertise multi-platform software development kits (SDKs)," the researchers said, "therefore, advertising trackers can be packaged simultaneously for Android and iOS, as well as lesser-known mobile platforms. "