Are Android apps exposing user information?

Android, the mobile operating system developed by Google, is an open-source platform. But some researchers are questioning how safe Android really is.

Android OS is open. But open is not necessarily the same as safe.

Android is open. But is Android safe? Depends on whom you ask. A new paper ā€“ presented by a team of researchers at Duke University, Penn State University, and Intel Labs ā€“ has found that a goodly portion of Android applications share location and user information with advertisers. The study focused specifically on 30 popular Android apps; of those 30 apps, 15 apparently transmitted user data without first notifying the user.

"Android's coarse grained access control provides insufficient protection against third-party applications seeking to collect sensitive data," the research team noted. In a statement to the BBC, Google said that "Android has taken steps to inform users of this trust relationship and to limit the amount of trust a user must grant to any given application developer."

"We also provide developers with best practices about how to handle user data," Google reps added.

Android has grown in leaps and bounds in recent months. According to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, 200,000 new Android devices are sold every day. Meanwhile, research firm Gartner has speculated that Android will finish 2010 with a 17.7 percent market share; by 2014, the OS will be featured on 29.6 percent of all smartphones, Gartner analysts said.

Google often touts the openness of the Android OS ā€“ especially in contrast to Apple's iOS, which tech guru Tim Bray has called a "walled garden." Earlier this year, Bray signed on with Google, and promptly wrote a long blog post on Android, pointing specifically to the accessibility of the platform, its friendliness to developers, and the increasing quality of Android applications.

"[Google is] now too big to be purely good or in fact purely anything," Bray wrote in the post. "Iā€™m sure that tendrils of stupidity and evil are even now finding interstitial breeding grounds whence they will emerge to cause grief." Still, he called Android as "unambiguously a good thing as the tangled wrinkly human texture of the Net can sustain just now."

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