Dec 07, 2021 | Updated: 07:19 PM EDT

Research Report: Most Smartphone Users Don't Know What Data Apps Are Taken From Them

Jan 18, 2016 02:27 AM EST

Blame it on the unclear way that apps outline the permissions that they require, information overload, the shorter attention spans of the circa-2016 human, or even the urge to just download the app, now. In any case, researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of California, Berkeley, found out that most smartphone users aren’t really aware of the exact data that they allow apps to siphon from their devices.

Aside from the fact that most smartphone users aren’t aware of what data they’re permitting apps to gather, the same study also showed that 80 percent of the participants were not happy to share the data. Only 6 people were happily willing to share everything.

The research showed that most users just indiscriminately accept apps’ data permission requests, in their desire to download and install the app. They don’t sift through the permission notes and check whether they’d actually like to agree with the permission request or not. For example, a user wouldn’t have wanted to agree that the app would gather their location information. You’d think that the user would instead just refuse to install the app, right? No, most users don’t refuse to install the app, even if they don’t truly agree with the permission requests. Most users would just click Accept and then go ahead and Install the app, anyway.

As part of their methodology, the researchers equipped the participants with devices that ran a modified version of the Android. The devices could highlight and indicate the type of data that apps access, thus showing the participants clearly what data they had signed over when they downloaded and installed the apps. This is how the majority of participants realized that they did NOT want the apps they used to gather the data that they had explicitly agreed to.

Updating one’s device to Android Marshmallow should actually resolve that: Android M allows users to refuse certain permission requests from apps. So, say, if an app would like to get a user’s location information, users running the Android Marshmallow can refuse that. Individual permissions can then be evaluated and refused if need be.

As of the moment, and for the users who have not or cannot update to Android Marshmallow are at the mercy of the apps’ data-gathering mechanisms. For everyone running Lollipop and below, it’s either you install the app and sign over your data, or you don’t, and keep your data secure. That’s just the way it is.

Days like these, the Android forking issue is really such an annoyance. If there were only a way for Google to deploy a patch across versions and across devices, they should, at least, address the permissions issue. However, with the vast diversity of Android devices across hardware specs and OS versions, this may be a feat that Google will never attempt. Trust that they’ll only archive the fact that they need to ensure the end-users’ data security. So, the bottom line is, either you install that app, or you don’t. Plain and simple.



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