The small print included with many mobile phone apps is giving their developers the right to rifle through users’ phone books, text messages and emails.
By agreeing to little-read terms and conditions documents, phone users are giving developers the right to inspect their personal information and even find out who they are talking to.
In many shocking cases, users are even giving apps the right to collect whatever images the camera happens to be seeing, as well as the phone’s location.
Facebook, Yahoo!, Flickr and Badoo all admitted to reading users’ text messages through their Android smartphone apps, the Sunday Times reported.
And many other apps from less well-known developers, many of them available for free, are also including the rights to access your personal data in their terms and conditions.
Academics are now warning the many apps are little more than ‘fronts’ to allow companies to hoover up personal data and pass them on to advertisers for a fee.
But the revelations also make clear that the wealth of data collected by the new generation of smartphones could pose a serious risk to users’ privacy.
Daniel Rosenfield, director of Sun Products, a successful app business whose products are downloaded at a rate of 5,000 a day, said the information was requested by advertisers.
‘You can sell your app but the revenue you get from selling your apps doesn’t touch the revenue you get from giving your apps away for free and just loading them with advertisements,’ he told the Sunday Times.
HOOVERING UP YOUR DATA: WHAT THE APPS CAN ACCESS
|Location data||Internet history||Text messages||Contact book||Online account IDs||Who you are calling||May intercept calls||Can access camera|
|My Fitness Pal||x||x||x|
|My Remote Lock||x||x||x|
Unlike Android apps, Apple iPhone apps are covered by a general terms and conditions policy, which runs to astonishing 17,000 words.
However, the company also faced embarrassment earlier this month when it emerged some companies with iPhone apps were harvesting contact lists from customers mobile phone address books without telling them.
Twitter admitted that it copied lists of email addresses and phone numbers from those who used its smartphone application and stored them on its servers without asking users’ permission.
Steve Jobs, Apple’s late founder and the mastermind behind the iPhone, himself spoke of the dangers of instrusive apps in 2007, warning that many ‘want to take a lot of your personal data and suck it up.’
Chris Brauer, co-director of the centre for Creative and Social Technology at Goldsmiths, University of London, echoed the concerns.
He warned that the ubiquitous smartphones have become ‘a source for incredibly rich information about people’s lives.
‘A lot of apps are fronts for various companies who are now capturing this data.’
Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘This research highlights the shockingly poor regulation around how our personal information can be captured through our phones.
‘Consumers are downloading seemingly innocuous apps without realising their phone calls, location and text messages are all potentially being monitored as a result. Buried in legalese and privacy policies are incredibly broad permissions to capture our personal information and profit from it.
‘Google’s name lends credibility to the Android market place, when in reality it is an unregulated wild west with hugely intrusive applications being touted as innocent games.
‘The platforms where people download apps from should be taking a far tougher stance on protecting users’ privacy and are currently failing to protect consumers from rogue developers.
‘The total lack of any effective regulation in this area is allowing our personal information to be harvested without our knowledge, or informed consent.
‘There is no reason a simple sports game needs to be able to intercept our calls, or for Facebook to read our text messages. It is being done to maximise profits with a total disregard for privacy.