Smartphone ads can put users’ personal data at risk: Study

New York: In-app advertising can put personal information of millions of smartphone users at risk of being leaked between ad networks and mobile app developers, says a new study.

The researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology examined more than 200 participants who used a custom-built app for Android-based smartphones to ascertain how much a mobile app creator may uncover about users because of the personalised ads served to them.

It was found that 73 percent of ad impressions for 92 percent of users were correctly aligned with their demographic profiles.

The study also found that based on ads shown, a mobile app developer could learn a user’s gender with 75 percent accuracy, parental status with 66 percent accuracy and age group with 54 percent accuracy.

Income, political affiliation and marital status could also be predicted with higher accuracy than random guesses, said the findings presented at the Network and Distributed System Security Symposium-2016 in San Diego, California, recently.

The team under the direction of professor Wenke Lee reviewed the accuracy of personalised ads that were served to test subjects from the Google AdNetwork based upon their personal interests and demographic profiles.

“Free smartphone apps are not really free,” said Wei Meng, lead researcher who is studying computer science.

“Apps — especially malicious apps — can be used to collect potentially sensitive information about someone simply by hosting ads in the app and observing what is received by a user. Mobile, personalised in-app ads absolutely present a new privacy threat,” he added.