88 per cent of free Android apps are sharing data with Google

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The researchers, who analyzed 959,000 apps from the U.S. and UK Google Play stores, said data harvesting and sharing by mobile apps was now "out of control".

Google News seems to have been affected by a bug that is causing the app to use massive amounts of data without the knowledge of its users.

Google disputed the methodology used by the Oxford researchers.

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The report, which first appeared in the Financial Times (paywalled) suggests that almost 90 per cent of free apps are leaking data back to Alphabet which can then be used in the increasingly cut-throat world of online advertising.

The data can then be used for a number of purposes including targeted advertising, credit scoring, or targeted political campaign messages, the researchers said in a paper. Revenues from online advertising are more than $59bn (£45bn) per year in the United States alone, according to researchers.

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Notably, the first post on the forum thread was done on September 1, but users have claimed that they made Google aware of the issue much earlier this year.

But Reuben Binns, who led the project, said because most apps were now free and making money from advertising, data sharing had spiralled out of control.

The researchers found that more than 88% of free apps on Google Play shared information with firms owned by Alphabet. "I was on Fi, luckily, so my bill capped at $60 (I enjoyed slow data for a week, though, and Google said they could do nothing about that??) My husband's bill just came in at $385 from Verizon".

"We have clear policies and guidelines for how developers and third-party apps can handle data and we require developers to be transparent and ask for user permission. If an app violates our policies, we take action".

"It mischaracterises ordinary functional services like crash reporting and analytics, and how apps share data to deliver those services", Google said.

The median app was able to transfer such data to five tracker companies, which could then eventually hand it off to companies like Google, and among the worst offenders found as far as tracking goes were apps aimed at children, as well as news apps.

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