Angry Birds, Mouse Trap, Toss It and Talking Tom all made a top 10 list this week that they probably rather would have avoided.
In a study released January 15th, 2013 through CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute, all four of these top downloaded free app games in Google’s Android App store were given the dubious honor of being recognized for gathering a surprising amount of data on their users.
Free Apps Ain’t Free
“For us, this wasn’t a surprise. We’ve known about this type of behavior for a long time. The novel thing was: What do laypeople know?”
– Jason Hong
When Jason Hong (associate professor in Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute) and Norman Sadeh (comp sci professor) decided to study the 100 most popular free Android apps, they already knew the apps often gathered information to sell for mobile marketing.
What they wanted to know was what standard users knew and understood about the information they were sharing.
Users are often shocked to learn that their favorite apps (or ones they downloaded long ago and forgot about) can be sharing their location, contact list and even photos with marketers who will pay handsomely to gather data for mobile advertising.
“I do a lot of speaking, and during my talks, I can actually see people deleting apps,”
– Jason Hong
Hong and Sadeh measured and ranked the apps not just on how much data the apps gathered, but how surprised users were when they understood what they had really agreed to share.
Angry Birds and Toss It made the list for sharing both device ID and location data.
Talking Tom and Mouse Trap were included for sharing device ID.
Location is pretty straightforward, but device ID can include information like your phone number, what software version you’re running and other uniquely identifying data.
All of the Top 10
The full list includes a number of non-game apps:
- Brightest Flashlight (device ID, location)
- Toss It game (device ID, location)
- Angry Birds game (device ID, location)
- Talking Tom virtual pet (device ID)
- Backgrounds HD Wallpapers (device ID, contacts)
- Dictionary.com (device ID, location)
- Mouse Trap game (device ID)
- Horoscope (device ID, location)
- Shazam music (device ID, location)
- Pandora Internet Radio (device ID, contacts)
It’s Not Evil, It’s Just Business
While many users were unpleasantly surprised, even to the point of deleting their apps, others simply accepted it as the cost of getting something for nothing. As Hong puts it:
“… companies aren’t being evil. They’re just trying to generate revenue”
Most people understand there’s some trade off for getting a ‘free’ product, after all – companies do have to make money somehow. But knowing what your signing up for can prevent unpleasant surprises later on.
So next time you download a free app, remember to check the fine print.