These screenshots and videos of your activity could include usernames, passwords, credit card numbers and other important personal information, the researchers said.
“We found that every app has the ability to record your screen and anything you type,” said David Choffnes, a professor at Boston’s Northeastern University. The findings will be presented at the Privacy Enhancing Technology Symposium Conference in Barcelona this month.
For the study, the team analysed more than 17000 of the most popular apps on the Android operating system, using an automated test program written by the students.
In all, 9000 of the 17000 apps showed the potential to take screenshots.
“There were no audio leaks. Not a single app activated the microphone,” said Christo Wilson, Professor at the varsity.
“Then we started seeing things we didn’t expect. Apps were automatically taking screenshots and sending them to third parties.”
Although these privacy breaches appeared to be benign, they emphasised how easily a phone’s privacy window could be exploited.
“This opening will almost certainly be used for malicious purposes. 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,” Wilson said.
Although the study was conducted on Android phones, there was no reason to believe other phone operating systems would be less vulnerable, the researchers said.
Another study, published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, found that apps developed to help people track their migraine pain often shared information with third parties, posing privacy risks partly because there were few legal protections against the sale or disclosure of data from medical apps to third parties.
“In 2018, it is estimated that nearly half of 3.4 billion smartphone users will use health-related apps,” said lead author Mia Minen, of the New York University Langone Medical Center in the US.
“Our study may have widespread implications for people suffering from various chronic conditions,” Minen said. - IANS