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Why location data is one of the most coveted details apps collect about you

Smartphone App Location Data

A new study from Carnegie Mellon reveals that smartphone applications collect location-related data a lot more than you think. And as Wired reports, and it’s not always clear what happens with that data and whether it’s safely used by the parties it’s shared with.

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The university’s Institute for Software Research tracked 23 Android users for three weeks in this study and asked them to behave differently when it comes to apps each week. In the first week, they were asked to use apps as they’d normally do. In the second week an App Ops app was installed to monitor the data those apps were using. In the third week, the researchers started telling them each day how many times location data has been asked by apps with help of a daily “privacy nudge” alert.

“Your location has been shared 5,398 times with Facebook, Groupon, GO Launcher EX and seven other apps in the last 14 days,” one user’s daily nudge read.

“The vast majority of people have no clue about what’s going on,” professor Norman Sadeh said, with the study revealing that users radically change their attitude towards the apps they use once they’re told how many times their location is accessed.

Researchers discovered that once users were given access to App Ops “they collectively reviewed their app permissions 51 times and restricted 272 permissions on 76 distinct apps,” but they stopped making changes after the first permission updates. However, once the nudges started kicking in, users reviewed permissions 69 times, blocking 122 more additional permissions on 47 apps.

“App permission managers are better than nothing, but by themselves they aren’t sufficient,” Sadeh said. “Privacy nudges can play an important role in increasing awareness and in motivating people to review and adjust their privacy settings.”

The reason why location is one of the most coveted details apps collect about you – and this happens both on Android and on iOS, as Wired points out – is that many apps are available to users as free downloads but come preloaded with other pieces of software that help developers make money. But not even developers might know everything that happens with collected location data that gets handed off to ad networks and other third parties.

More details about this privacy study are available at the source link below.

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he closely follows the events in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises. Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.