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Edinburgh Uni Research Shows Alarming Extent of Mobile Data Sharing

David Paul

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mobile phone data
Scientists have discovered the vast scale of data collection with developers and third parties through some of the most popular phones on the market.

New research has revealed the “extensive scale” of mobile phone data sharing between your handset and other parties.

Privacy concerns have been raised after investigations into the levels of data collection and information shared from a range of popular mobile phones.

Led by the University of Edinburgh and Trinity College Dublin, researchers found that six popular Android devices collect and share extensive amounts of data, with no available opt-out solutions.

The team examined the Operating Systems (OS) developed by Realme, LineageOS, Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei and e/OS and the data that these collect.

Research revealed that, even while the phones are sitting idle and “minimally configured” they are still transmitting vast amounts of data, both to the OS developer and third parties including LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.

Some communications between phone handsets and OS developers are understandable and necessary, researchers said. However, the surprising volume of transferred data observed raised several privacy concerns.

Professor Doug Leith, Chair of Computer Systems School of Computer Science and Statistics at Trinity College Dublin, said: “I think we have completely missed the massive and ongoing data collection by our phones, for which there is no opt out. We’ve been too focused on web cookies and on badly-behaved apps.

“I hope our work will act as a wake-up call to the public, politicians and regulators. Meaningful action is urgently needed to give people real control over the data that leaves their phones.”

Apart from devices from those running e/OS, all other examined collect a list of every app installed on their handsets. Researchers said that this potentially sensitive information can reveal user interests, including the use of mental health apps, religious faith apps, dating apps and political news apps.

The Xiaomi handset sends details of all the app screens viewed by a user to Xiaomi, including when and how long each app is used.

The Swiftkey keyboard on the examined Huawei handset sends details of app usage over time to Microsoft. This reveals, for example, when a user is writing a text, using the search bar, or searching for contacts.

Samsung, Xiaomi, Realme and Google collect long-lived device identifiers, such as the hardware serial number, alongside user-resettable advertising identifiers.

Third-party system apps from Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Facebook are pre-installed on most of the handsets and silently collect data, with no opt-out.


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Commenting on the results, Professor Paul Patras, Associate Professor at the School of Informatics at Edinburgh Uni, said: “Although we’ve seen protection laws for personal information adopted in several countries in recent years, including by EU member states, Canada and South Korea, user-data collection practices remain widespread.

“More worryingly, such practices take place ‘under the hood’ on smartphones without users’ knowledge and without an accessible means to disable such functionality.

“Privacy-conscious Android variants are gaining traction though and our findings should incentivise market-leading vendors to follow suit.”


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David Paul

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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