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App users spooked by privacy fears

News, 12 November 2015

NEW YORK: Analysis of more than 1 million apps in Google's Android operating system has shown apps seek 235 distinct kinds of permissions from smartphone users, but US mobile consumers remain concerned about their privacy.

Privacy concerns about mobile apps have been confirmed in numerous recent reports, but the Pew Research Center sought to establish the exact permissions and capabilities that apps are most likely to ask for as a condition of use.

Covering more than 1 million apps available in the Google Play Store from June to September 2014, the research found the average app requested five permissions before installation.

Of the 235 total permissions, 83% wanted "full network access", 69% requested "view network connections" while 54% asked for access to memory or available storage on a user's smartphone.

The largest number of app permissions related to a device's hardware, but still 70 app permissions would allow access to a user's personal information, such as their contacts or precise location.

With permissions being needed for even the most basic apps to function, the study established that one of the problems facing app developers is that they cannot edit the description of each permission and therefore explain why each permission is needed.

"Ultimately – despite user concerns about the information being requested by the apps they use – the amount of personal information users are putting at risk depends almost entirely on the individual app, the permission it requests and the context in which these permissions are being used," the report said.

Pew said it conducted a separate survey into user concerns in early 2015 and found 60% of app downloaders had chosen not to install an app when they discovered how much personal information it required in order to use it. The same concerns caused 43% to uninstall an app after downloading it.

Meanwhile, a full 90% of app downloaders said how their personal data might be used is "very" or "somewhat" important to them when deciding whether to download an app.

In addition, more than half (57%) said it is equally important to know how many times an app has been downloaded.

Data sourced from Pew Research Center; additional content by Warc staff