A Measurement Study of Tracking in Paid Mobile Applications

S. Seneviratne, H. Kolamunna, A. Seneviratne“A Measurement Study of Tracking in Paid Mobile ApplicationsTo appear in Proceedings of the 8th ACM Conference on Security and Privacy in  Wireless and Mobile Networks (WiSec), New York City, USA. June, 2015.

Abstract: Smartphone usage is tightly coupled with the use of apps that can be either free or paid. Numerous studies have investigated the tracking libraries associated with free apps. Only a limited number of these have focused on paid apps. As expected, these investigations indicate that tracking is happening to a lesser extent in paid apps, yet there is no conclusive evidence. This paper provides the first large-scale study of paid apps. We analyse top paid apps obtained from four different countries: Australia, Brazil, Germany, and US, and quantify the level of tracking taking place in paid apps in comparison to free apps. Our analysis shows that 60% of the paid apps are connected to trackers that collect personal information compared to 85%–95% in free apps. We further show that approximately 20% of the paid apps are connected to more than three trackers. With tracking being pervasive in both free and paid apps, we then quantify the aggregated privacy leakages associated with individual users. Using the data of user installed apps of over 300 smartphone users, we show that 50% of the users are exposed to more than 25 trackers which can result in significant leakages of privacy.

Tracker List: The third party tracker list we prepared for our paper are made available to stem further research (download).

Note: If you use our datasets in your research, please include a reference to our WiSec 2015 paper (pdf) in your work.

Contact: Please send your queries to Suranga.Seneviratne@nicta.com.au