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Technology & Entrepreneurship

UTSA Team Develops Tool Analyzing App Privacy

Paul Flahive
Dr Jianwei Niu and Rocky Slavin

"Hopefully this has a privacy policy," says Rocky Slavin, a Phd student at UTSA. He and a team of professors are working to create tools to ensure apps on your phone aren't collecting more data than they said they would.  He's walking me through their web form at Polidroid.org which should tell me if a dog whistle app i downloaded a few weeks back is taking more than it should.

"Oh this doesn't have a  privacy policy...that hopefully means they don't collect anything."

But that probably isn't the case. In fact, after creating this tool, called the PVdetector, the team led by Dr Jianwei Niu, found that more than 400 of the 500 free apps they analyzed were potentially violating their privacy policies. Niu says one of the common potential violations was the collection of location.

"We collect the information about which city you are in for instance, and actually what they collect is your real time GPS collection, they know you are in this building on the UTSA Campus."

The tool is one of several the team has developed not to shame app developers, whose names they haven't disclosed, but to ensure the developers have the tools to know when their apps aren't complying with their privacy statements...because often the code writers aren't the privacy statement writers.

The next step for the team is increasing the things the tools monitor for and building their own app that could do all of this for you on your phone.

You don't have to be a power user to use the web form on their site, but if you aren't it will require you use their step-by-step tutorial.

They say Polidroid should email you the results of your analysis within 24 hours based on the complexity of the app and the traffic the site is experiencing.