wombatsecurity | December 26, 2012

Smartphone snoops? How your phone data is being shared

(CBS News) Smartphones landed in many stockings this Christmas season, and with more than a billion smartphone users worldwide, revenue from applications could soon reach $100 billion.

Despite their popularity, many smartphone users and app-junkies remain unaware about what information they could be sharing along with those photos and tweets.

Jason Hong, a mobile privacy specialist at Carnegie Mellon's Human Computer Interaction institute told CBS News' Sharyl Attkisson, "We looked at the top 100 apps and it turns out about half of them had some kind of privacy concerns, in that they were collecting or using some kind of sensitive information."

Hong demonstrated how a basic photo sharing app provides information that allows his team to quickly and easily discover the location of the photo-taker.

"They have the location on there, so there's a photo of you and where it was taken," he explains.

And while some users might be aware that apps like Instagram, which offers the option of location-based photo sharing, share that information widely, Hong's team found that even the popular game "Angry Birds," transmits the user's location and other information while it is in use.

"We found out that it sends a decide ID to at least three different kinds of companies," Hong explained. "Once the data is outside of your smartphone, it's really hard to know exactly what's going on with the data."

However, Hong also added that the companies' ability to share user information with advertisers and third-party companies helps them offer the application for free.

"These kinds of smartphone technologies ... have the potential for a lot of good," Hong said. "But they also have the potential for a lot of harm ... embarrassment or unwanted disclosures or just sort of discomfort about being tracked."

David Kirkpatrick, the founder and CEO of Techonomy, told "CBS This Morning," that app makers need this data because "they want to be able to charge more for the ads that they sell to their advertisers." He added that there is "no one thing" that smartphone users can do to keep their data private.(Watch the video at left for tips on smart cellphone use.)

Kirkpatrick also explained the steady and anticipated growth in the field of data analytics -- what he called "a huge, exploding field -- in an effort to make the massive amount of data collected from smartphone users viable and "valuable to the commercial community."

For more from Sharyl Attkisson on the hidden data-sharing dangers of smartphones and on Hong's work to investigate privacy issues, watch the video at the top of this page.

Read the article and the video at CBS This Morning