Android warning – Google Play Store apps discovered that collect sensitive user data
Android smartphone fans have been put on alert about apps found on the Google Play Store that can collect sensitive data from millions of users.
The data collection shock was discovered by Andrey Meshkov, co-founder of Adguard, who described it as a “huge spyware campaign”.
According to Meshkov’s findings, the data collection campaign affects Android apps as well as extensions for the market leading Google Chrome internet browser.
The security expert said once a victim is logged into their Facebook account the Chrome extensions scrape data immediately after the browser starts up.
In a blog post, Meshkov said all Facebook data is scraped and it even tries to go through a victim’s purchase history.
Other data that is targeted includes posts, sponsored posts, tweets, YouTube videos and adverts a victim has seen and interacted with.
This data is then collected and sent to a third-party firm called Unimania who it is claimed then sells the data to other parties for revenue.
Adguard said a number of Android apps on the Google Play Store have been found to operate in the same way as the offending Chrome extensions.
The ad blocker in their research pinpointed two Android apps with millions of installs.
One of these is an alternative Facebook client called Fast which has been downloaded more than 10 million times.
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The other app is Fast Lite, run by the same developers, which the Google Play Store says has over one million installs.
In his findings, Meshkov said: “This was not just a matter limited to Chrome extensions, and I realized that I needed to continue my investigation.
“To this end, some good News was that we already had some data collected while preparing a study on mobile apps tracking and I could make use of it and query it right away.
“That’s how I found one particular app that was connecting to the Unimania servers.
“This was an alternative Facebook client called “Fast – Social App” with a record of more than 10,000,000 installs according to Google Play.
He added: “Scanning this developer apps’ traffic confirmed that “Fast-Social App” transfers pretty much the same data as the Chrome extensions do, and to the same Unimania servers.
“I also found out that “Fast Lite – Social App + Twitter” (1,000,000+ installs) also does the same thing.”
Meshkov also listed other apps that mention Unimania in its privacy policies, but he could not confirm if the apps are still leaking data.
These apps are PhotoMania – Photo Effects, which has over a million installs, and All In One Social Media “Fast” with over 100,000 installs.
Android app warning – Popular Google Play Store apps collect user data, an expert has claimed
Meshkov also found that Unimania look seek to launch their own products soon, the OmniSocial mobile app and the Who’s following me browser extension.
Meshkov added: “Obviously, none of these apps describe this behavior in the app description; neither do they have an “in-app disclosure” as required by Google.
“I must admit that the Google Play Developer Policies look solid, and so they are likely not the reason of why the privacy of Android apps is in such a sad state. The problem is that these policies are not enforced, hence most of the app developers simply ignore them.”
The Adguard co-founder said he has reported the affected Android apps and Chrome extensions to Google.
Concluding his findings and describing how users can protect themselves, Meshkov said: “When installing anything on your device or browser, follow these rules.
“Never ever install anything made by a developer you don’t trust. Do your homework, find out who the developer is and decide for yourself if they are trustworthy.”
The four Chrome extensions Meshkov mentioned in his study have an aggregated users count of more than 400,000 users.
These extensions are:
• Video Downloader For Facebook (More than 170,000 users)
• Album & Photo Manager For Facebook (More than 92,000 users)
• PDF Merge – PDF Files Merger (More than 125,000 users)
• Pixcam – Webcam Effects (31,000 users, archived copy)
Source : EXPRESS