How much do you trust your smartphone?
Like many people, you probably carry your mobile phone in your pocket at all times. You may even have grown fond of your device, to which you entrust all your most intimate secrets and photos.
Yet Android smartphones are far from being trustworthy, according to a recent study.
The study – which was conducted by teams from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Trinity College Dublin in Ireland – has uncovered a host of privacy issues related to the use of Android-powered smartphones by major brands.
Professor Doug Leith at Trinity College Dublin, along with Dr Paul Patras and Haoyu Liu at the University of Edinburgh, examined the data sent by six variants of the Android OS developed by Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei, Realme, LineageOS and e/OS.
What they found is that "even when minimally configured and the handset is idle, these vendor-customised Android variants transmit substantial amounts of information to the OS developer and also to third parties (Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Facebook etc) that have pre-installed system apps".
What is your phone sharing about you?
Among the collected data, researchers noted the permanent identification systems of smartphones, the usage history of applications, and telemetry data.
With the exception of e/OS, all of the handset manufacturers examined collect a list of all the apps installed on a handset, the study highlights.
This is potentially sensitive information since it can reveal user interests, such as the latest dating app used, and so on.
According to the authors of the research, there is no opt out from this data harvesting.
"I think we have completely missed the massive and ongoing data collection by our phones, for which there is no opt out," Leith, who is also Chair of Computer Systems at Trinity’s School of Computer Science and Statistics, said.
"We’ve been too focused on web cookies and on badly-behaved apps".
Meaningful action is urgently needed to give people real control over the data that leaves their phone.
Professor Doug Leith
Chair of Computer Systems, School of Computer Science and Statistics at Trinity College
The professor hopes this study 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," he added.