Your phone has an auction room for spies


bijenkorf-app-play_google_comReporter Dimitri Tokmetzis decided to find out what happens to your privacy if you install an app on your smartphone.

The manufacturers of operating systems for smartphones let you jump through a number of hoops whenever an app wants some private data from you, but are these hoops indicative of real privacy protection or do they only exist to give you the idea of privacy, while at the same time pushing you to give up your privacy by making protection a bit of a drag?

I tested 85 popular apps and followed thousands of data trails. I saw how my smart phone is part of a complex international web of commercial data streams, flinging my data all across the globe […]. It’s a process you can barely control. In the end you have little to no say over your own data.

Tokmetzis installed an app for Bijenkorf, and upmarket-ish Dutch department store. He used a web developer’s tool called Charles which intercepts network traffic. When he ran the app, a number of the usual suspects started following him around: Google Analytics, Google Doubleclick, Intershop and Bijenkorf themselves.

As I am looking at a black leather laptop bag (priced over 500 euro) my smart phone gets jumped by at least 18 different on-line advertising companies who send all kinds of data from and to their servers. It is a blitz. Within a single second contact is being made with servers in the US, Sweden, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands; servers owned by such companies as Improve Digital, Admeta, Adtech, Metrigo, Burst Media, Yieldlab, Switch Concepts, AppNexus, Sociamantic, Adscale, Rubicon Project, OpenX, Smart Adserver and Casale Media.

What all these trackers are doing in this app is a mystery to me. AppNexus turns out to be a platform for real-time bidding, a flash auction in which advertisers bid against each other in milliseconds in order to supply me with ads. […] But the Bijenkorf app doesn’t display ads from external parties.

It turned out that the app loads the mobile Bijenkorf website which includes all the trackers.

Tokmetzis finds it extremely worrying that modern phones are more difficult to secure than PCs. He points to the fact that phones are often used for much more intimate purposes than PCs.

(Illustration: Google Play)

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