Smartphone apps these days seem to require a lot of permissions, thanks to the wide range of features they offer. However, not all apps and services are completely trustworthy, and granting access to nefarious entities can be quite dangerous. A new study has now revealed the shocking amount of information that can be collected from users with only the location permission.
Conducted by researchers Benjamin Baron from the University College in London and Mirco Musolesi from the University of Bologna in Italy, the study involved the installation of TrackAdvisor (an application they developed) which would continuously collect the location information of 69 participants.
As part of the study, the users went about their daily lives for two weeks while the app collected their location data of over 2 lakh places. It identified 2,500 places and found nearly 5,000 pieces of personal information including, but not limited to, health, socio-economic situation, ethnicity, and religion.
“Users are largely unaware of the privacy implications of some permissions they grant to apps and services, in particular when it comes to location-tracking information”, one of the researchers, Musolesi said in a statement. “Thanks to machine learning techniques, these data provide sensitive information such as the place where users live, their habits, interests, demographics, and information about users’ personalities”.
That an app was able to track users and glean so much information is worrying, but not surprising considering the advertising-based models of monetising apps and services that exist today. However, Musolesi stated that he hoped the study could also lead to the development of systems that can automatically block the collection of sensitive data from third parties based on previously defined privacy settings.