Beware: Android apps reportedly recording screens secretly

Beware: Android apps reportedly recording screens secretly

In some cases, they found, your phone is recording your screen and sending it to third parties.

The National Security Agency is deleting millions of phone call and text records it wasn't authorized to keep; chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge reports from Washington.

For the past year, researchers at Northeastern University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, have been experimenting on 17,000 of the most popular Android apps to figure out whether any of them are secretly using your phone's microphone to record you.

While Facebook is pulling the plug on the three apps, the company still runs the most popular apps in the world, including its main social network with 2.2 billion users, along with Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp, each of which has more than 1 billion users. It was seen that the app recorded a video of what the person was doing inside GoPuff and sent to a domain affiliated with AppSee.

Of the 17 260 applications, which the researchers watched more than 9 000 had the permission to access camera and microphone and, thus, had the ability to eavesdrop on the phone owner. Some apps will ask for various multimedia permissions without actually needing to use that media.


Considering these limitations, these researchers found no solid evidence of snooping, and the apps never really acted shady and activated the microphone for recording audio without the user's knowledge. Like good scientists, they refuse to say that their study definitively proves that your phone isn't secretly listening to you, but they didn't find a single instance of it happening. Instead, few of the apps shared screen recordings with third parties.

In one example, Gizmodo reported, the popular U.S. delivery app GoPuff recorded and sent screen recordings to a mobile analytics company called AppSee. Experts noticed that some apps had recorded videos of people's work and also took a screenshot.

While it might be common practice for developers to use analytics companies to monitor and improve app performance, GoPuff's privacy policy makes no mention of it.

Google is investigating Appsee's capabilities further, stating that "We determined that a part of AppSee's services may put some developers at risk of violating Play policy". Some apps include code for multimedia sensors that are not used, but the app does not disclose to the users that this code is included. It was actively making recordings of everything the user did on the app and sending it to AppSee, an app analytics platform.

Back to the new study, which researchers will present the results of next month at the Privacy Enhancing Technology Symposium Conference in Barcelona.

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