App Genome Project Lists Which Android and iPhone Apps Tap Your Personal Data

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A new project is gathering information to find out who is gathering information about you. Lookout, a company that specializes in mobile security, has launched the App Genome Project to expose which Android and iPhone apps can tap your personal data.

Lookout plans to unveil its research at the Black Hat Security Conference on Wednesday. The project has fully mapped 100,000 Android and iPhone applications and has scanned an additional 200,000. So far, their findings are inconclusive as to whether one phone or the other is safer overall.

About 29 percent of free Android apps can find out where their users are located, and 33 percent of free iPhone apps have the same capability. Another danger of apps? The ability to access your contact lists. Again, free iPhone apps make you the most vulnerable, since 14 percent of them can download this data compared to 8 percent of free Android apps.

But in another, more nebulous category, the iPhone seemed to win. Forty-seven percent of free Android apps contain third-party code that can access an array of sensitive data on your smartphone, roughly double the number of free iPhone apps in that category.

Just 28 percent of iPhone apps are free, but 64 percent of Android apps have no charge, which may end up having greater implications for mobile users who download free apps exclusively.

The project was begun by the founders of Lookout, John Hering and Kevin Mahaffey. Their research not only positions Lookout as the good guys helping smartphone users to navigate their threatening downloads, but also goes to show just how explosive the app world is becoming. As their infographic advertises, the average smartphone has 22 apps, and by 2012 the world population will be downloading apps at a rate of 50 billion per year. In fact, Lookout’s conference speech is entitled, “App Attack: Surviving the Mobile Application Explosion.”

Ultimately, the App Genome Project will yield a real-time database that can help both smartphone owners and developers become aware of the privacy strings attached to apps. And ironically, one of Lookout’s implied solutions is a download: their mobile antivirus system.