Imagine someone secretly loading a stealth program onto your mobile phone that will sell your secrets to the highest bidder. Everything from your ethnicity and how many times you go to McDonald’s to broadcasting your favorite route home from work. In 2012, I wrote an article called There’s A Spy In Your Phone in which I proposed that a theoretical mobile app can be loaded onto your phone without your knowledge that can take pictures of your surrounding area and over time collect them into a collage to get a 3D representation of places you frequent often. As scary as that sound back in 2012, the knowledge that most of our mobile phones carry apps that are way more powerful than that theoretical one I wrote about 2 years ago raised more than eyebrows.
The process of getting these mobile applications onto your phone happens to be quite ingenious because it’s not malicious as most stealth apps of this nature usually are which in turn makes it very hard for these apps to be detected. These app creators not interested in finding out passwords to your bank accounts or using your phone to attack government websites. It is just sitting there on your mobile phone observing you or better yet observing a community of ‘you’s.
Most of us are savvy enough to watch out for questionable emails on our computers and mobile phones. We make sure that we add protective mobile applications like Lookout or CM Security that will notify us that the app we’re downloading onto our devices may be malicious or rated unsafe but since these new apps are Trojan Horse apps that most of us downloaded willingly onto our mobile phones from reputable sources, neither the gatekeepers or our protective applications know or even care that this is a snooping app.
Case in point is the Android app Brightest Flashlight by Golden Shores Technology. With over 50 million downloads it is the most invasive application you can download onto your mobile phone. It downloads a barrage of information about your movements and how you interact once you are there. I myself even downloaded this app recently when I realized that my new phone didn’t have a flashlight app built in (It actually had a flashlight app sitting in the Widget section of the phone). Once I downloaded Brightest Flashlight to my phone I realized that it took up over 12 megabytes of space on my phone which is a large amount for such a simple app. With some initial investigating I found that over time, my data usage more than doubled even when the phone was not in use after immediately after installation. I also notice that the app was uploading my location every few minutes. Frantically, I researched the app and the company that made the application and found that Golden Shores Technology settled a Federal Trade Commission charge that it deceived users and is prohibited from further misrepresenting how its consumer’s information is shared and consumed (In 2013!). The amazing thing is, that this app is still available and it’s still sharing information on millions of people every day. How is that possible? They tell you before you download the app. You may not have noticed but Google and Apple have changed the way you download an app from their mobile stores. During the download process, they will give you information on how a particular app will use your the information on your phone and by what means they will share this information. Knowing that you will ignore this tidy bit of info at the beginning of your download, the same companies that got into trouble before with the FCC are now able to continue sharing our information because we lazily give them permission to.
Now, I hear you LOL-ing iPhone owners. Just because you have an iPhone doesn’t mean that you are immune to this invasion of privacy. There are plenty of iPhone and iPad apps that are reportedly doing the same or as much snooping as Android phones and tablet apps.
Overall, to protect yourself from apps that will eat up your data tracking your every move, you should be suspicious of apps that take up a lot of space, especially anything over 6 megabytes. You can check the size of any app on your mobile device by checking Settings and click on your app information. Also, check online for posted alerts about malicious or benign apps that share data from your device while burning up your precious data while doing so.
You can get up-to-date information on apps that may be harmful or helpful to you or your mobile device by subscribing to our Mobile App Alert newsletter which we update twice a month and stay one step ahead.