A report by academics at Northeastern University in Massachusetts, USA, has revealed that Android apps are spying on their owners’ behaviour on their screens as well as taking and sending screenshots and screen recording to third parties.
The researchers monitored 17,260 of the most popular Android apps, including those that send information to Facebook, using an automated program that interacted with the apps and took note of what media files were being sent from them.
“Apps have been caught taking pictures without the user’s knowledge and passively listened for inaudible, ultrasonic audio beacons. The developers of mobile device operating systems recognize that sensor data is sensitive, but unfortunately existing permission models only mitigate some of the privacy concerns surrounding multimedia data,” stated the research paper.
The study notes that it has limitations, though, and the researchers stopped short of declaring that phones never secretly record users — just that they didn’t find any evidence of it. It’s certainly possible that apps like Facebook are using a new, undiscovered method to do it, but it’s hard to imagine how it would escape the researchers’ notice.
“An app could transform an audio recording into a different format (e.g., a text transcript or musical features such as beat and notes) that our system does not detect. Similarly, our approach does not stitch together a single media file transferred over multiple flows, or cases where a media file does not use a standard encoding format,” stated the research.
Recently, Facebook sent a warning to more than 800,000 of its users claiming that a bug caused its system to temporarily unblock people that had been previously blocked by the users, without consent.
This leaves a possibility that apps could be actually spying and recording users without their consent.
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