Trinity College study reveals Android phones share user data without consent

Android phones transmit “significant” personal data to third-party apps like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft without user permission, a Trinity College study now reveals.

The study, conducted alongside the University of Edinburgh, investigated six brands of Android phones and their operating systems.

“I think we have completely missed the massive and ongoing data collection by our phones, for which there is no opt-out,” Professor Doug Leith said, Chair of Computer Systems at the School of Computer Science and Statistics in Trinity.

“We’ve been too focused on web cookies and on badly-behaved apps.”

In its conclusion, the study emphasised that such sensitive information can go beyond innocent online shopping patterns and reveal the use of mental health apps, interest in religious faith apps such as a Muslim prayer app, and gay dating apps.

“I hope our work will act as a wake-up call to the public, politicians and regulators. Meaningful action is urgently needed to give people real control over the data that leaves their phones,” Leith said, calling for more government restrictions and regulations on data mining from smartphones.

A massive aspect of the study’s findings is that users are entirely unable to opt out of this data sharing process, even if they sought it out. On Android phones, apps like Google and Microsoft are already pre-installed, meaning the phone company is able to evade the requirement to ask users if they consent to their data being recorded when they first download an app.

“Although we’ve seen protection laws for personal information adopted in several countries in recent years, including by EU member states, Canada and South Korea, user-data collection practices remain widespread,” Dr Paul Patras said, Associate Professor in the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, who aided the study.

“More worryingly, such practices take place ‘under the hood’ on smartphones without users’ knowledge and without an accessible means to disable such functionality.”

The study also briefly touched on how consumers are becoming more privacy-conscious, and have thus shown more interest in privacy-conscious technology in their purchasing habits.

According to Patras, this is the part that will make a real difference, saying that at the end of the day, only the consumer has the ability to change the habits of a company.

The study comes in the wake of several privacy-related incidents published recently, including Samsung’s new Galaxy Z Flip 3 release requiring a software update to fill a phone privacy protection gap.

Devin Sean Martin