Emerging Technology from the arXiv

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Best of 2015: The Truth About Smartphone Apps That Secretly Connect to User Tracking and Ad Sites

Security researchers have developed an automated system for detecting Android apps that secretly connect to ad sites and user tracking sites. From May …

  • December 28, 2015

There are essentially two starkly different environments in which to download apps. The first is Apple’s app store, which carefully vets apps before allowing only those deemed fit to appear. The second is the Google Play store, which is more open because Google exercises a lighter touch in vetting apps, only excluding those that are obviously malicious. 

But because Google Play is more open, the apps it offers span a much wider quality range. Many connect to ad-related sites and tracking sites while some connect to much more dubious sites that are associated with malware.

But here’s the problem—this activity often takes place without the owner being aware of what is going on. That’s something that most smartphone users would be appalled to discover—if only they were able to.

Today, Luigi Vigneri and pals from Eurecom in France have a solution. These guys have come up with an automated way to check the apps in Google Play and monitor the sites they connect to. And their results reveal the extraordinary scale of secret connections that many apps make without their owners being any the wiser.

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