EU slams new evidence that apps are illegally passing data to advertisers

“They are spotting you, they are following you, they are getting information about your friends, about your whereabouts, about your preferences.” 

Viviane Reding, Vice President of the European Commission has spoken exclusively to Channel 4 News about smartphone apps developed to mine personal data and pass it to advertisers.

A quarter of all UK mobile users are on Android. They downloaded 100,000,000 Apps in January alone.These users grant apps permission to access certain features on the phone and Channel 4 News has discovered that these permissions are then being “handed on” to a network of advertisers.

MWR Infosecurity, who Channel 4 News commissioned to investigate the development of these apps, told the programme: “We found that a lot of the free applications in the top 50 apps list are using advertising inside the applications and that the permission that you grant to these applications is also granted to the advertiser. If users knew about this I think they would be concerned about it but at the moment I don’t think they are aware of the situation and how widely their information can be used.”

The code that MWR Infosecurity found gave advertising networks access to contacts, calendar and location. It came from a large US ad network called MobClix. Despite numerous calls and emails from Channel 4 News, the company has not responded.

Channel 4 News took the findings to the Vice President of the European Commission, who is trying to push through continent wide legislation to reform data protection

Viviane Reding, Vice President, European Commission said: “This really concerns me, and this is against the law because nobody has the right to get your personal data without you agreeing to this. Maybe you want somebody to get this data and agree and it’s fine. You’re an adult and you can do whatever you want.

“But normally you have no idea what others are doing with your data. They are spotting you, they are following you, they are getting information about your friends, about your whereabouts, about your preferences. That is certainly not what you thought you bought into when you downloaded a free of charge app. That’s exactly what we have to change.”

Google runs the Android system and told Channel 4 News that it has best practises for app makers to follow when it comes to user data, but it doesn’t screen applications before they are offered for download.

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