Google has removed several apps used by more than 50 million users from the Play Store after learning that the apps in question were collecting personal information from users. Researchers Joel Reardon (University of Calgary) and Serge Egelman (UC Berkeley) discovered the malicious code in dozens of apps that collected users’ precise location, phone numbers and email accounts.
Reardon and Egelman (via Endgadget) reported their findings to federal regulators and Google, leading the company to remove the apps from the Play Store. It has been reported that Measurement Systems is the company responsible for the code and associated with defense contractors who provide cyber intelligence to US national security agencies.
We want to believe that such a connection is harmless, but Measurement Systems would have paid developers to add their wares to SDKs (development kits) on many different apps in exchange for detailed user information and payment.
Reardon states the following in the AppCensus research blog post:
“A database that maps a person’s actual email address and phone number with their precise GPS location history is particularly frightening because it could easily be used to run a service to look up a person’s location history, just by knowing their phone number or email address, which can be used to target journalists, dissidents or political rivals.”
The other fear researchers have is that even though the apps containing the information-gathering code have been pulled from the Play Store, millions of users may still be using them. When the Wall Street Journal first released the story, they contacted Measurement Systems and received an email response stating, “The allegations you make about the company’s operations are false. Furthermore, we are “We are not aware of any connections between our company and US defense contractors, nor are we aware of … a company called Vostrom. We are also unclear about Packet Forensics or how it relates to our business.”
Reardon and Egelman have compiled a list of the harvesting apps that users should remove from their devices immediately.
List of data collection apps
We will keep an eye on this evolving story and update this list as it continues to grow.
Mark has starred in comedy shows across the country for 20 years, appearing on ABC, MTV, Comedy Central, Howard Stern, Food Network and Sirius XM Radio. He has written on every subject imaginable from dating, family, politics, social issues and technology. He wrote his first tech articles for the now-defunct Dads On Tech 10 years ago, and his passion for blending humor and technology has grown under the tutelage of the Laptop Mag team. His penchant for tearing things down and rebuilding didn’t make Mark popular at home, but when he got his hands on the legendary Commodore 64, his passion for all things technology deepened. Nowadays, when he’s not filming, editing footage, tinkering with cameras and laptops, or on stage, he can be found at his desk snacking, writing about anything technical, new. jokes or scripts that he dreams of filming.