Fuming Shih and Frances Zhang, CSAIL, are investigating how much smartphone apps know about users

October 5, 2012

Chances are that if you own a smartphone you have downloaded a host of different applications, from weather tools to maps, social media applications and games. Many consumers are aware that smartphone applications tend to gather personal information about users, oftentimes tracking location and usage activity. New research from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory’s (CSAIL) Decentralized Information Group (DIG) shows that a majority of applications not only collect user information when the application is in operation, but also when the application is inactive or when the user has turned off his or her smartphone screen. Under the guidance of CSAIL Principal Investigator Hal Abelson — the Class of 1922 Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science — CSAIL graduate students Fuming Shih and Frances Zhang are investigating how much certain smartphone applications know about users. They started by exploring Google maps, a common download for smartphone users. Shih and Zhang found that the Google maps application continues to gather location information from users even when the application has been closed. Based on their initial investigation, the researchers were curious to see how many other applications continued to track users when not in operation. Read the rest of the article on MIT news.

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