Your smartphone app may be secretly taking screenshots, do you know
New Delhi : Do you know your smartphone is spying on you? Strange, but true! Some popular apps on your smartphone may be secretly taking screenshots of your activity and sending them to third parties, a study claims. This is mostly alarming because the screenshots and videos of your activity may include usernames, passwords, credit card numbers and other important personal information, researchers said.
“We found that thousands of popular apps have the ability to record your screen and anything you type,” said David Choffnes, a professor at Northeastern University in the US. “That includes your username and password, because it can record the characters you type before they turn into those little black dots,” said Choffnes. The study was designed to explore a constant urban myth that phones are secretly recording our conversations and then selling that information to companies so they can sprinkle you with your desired advertisements.
While the researchers found no proof of recorded conversations, they discovered activity that could be even more risky. “We knew we were looking for a needle in a haystack, and we were surprised to find several needles,” said Choffnes. The team found that some companies were sending screenshots and videos of user phone activities to third parties. Although these privacy breaches appeared to be gentle, they emphasised how easily a phone’s privacy window could be broken for profit.
“This opening will almost certainly be used for malicious purposes,” said Christo Wilson, a professor at Northeastern. “It’s simple to install and collect this information. And what’s most disturbing is that this occurs with no notification to or permission by users,” said Wilson. “In the case we caught, the information sent to a third party was zip codes, but it could just as easily have been credit card numbers,” he said. To undergo the study, researchers analysed over 17,000 of the most popular apps on the Android operating system, using an automated test programme written by the students.
Although the study was conducted on Android phones, researchers said there is no reason to believe that other phone operating systems would be less susceptible. In all, 9,000 of the 17,000 apps had the possibility to take screenshots. “In one case, the app took video of the screen activity and sent that information to a third party,” said Wilson. An app was, GoPuff, a fast-food delivery service, which sent the screenshots to Appsee, a data analytics firm for mobile devices. All this was done without the awareness of app users.
Researchers indicate that neither company appeared to have any wicked intent. They said that web developers commonly use this type of information to clear up their apps and improve the user experience. However, that does not mean a malicious company could not use this privacy window to take personal information for their personal profit. “That has the potential to be much worse than having the camera taking pictures of the ceiling or the microphone recording pointless conversations. There is no easy way to close this privacy opening,” said Choffnes.