Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Georgia Tech discovers how mobile ads leak personal data

24.02.2016

The personal information of millions of smartphone users is at risk due to in-app advertising that can leak potentially sensitive user information between ad networks and mobile app developers, according to a new study by the School of Computer Science at the Georgia Institute of Technology.


Caption

Ad networks deliver personalized ads inside mobile apps, which can leak sensitive profile information about the user to the mobile app developer.

Credit: Georgia Tech

Results will be presented Tuesday, Feb. 23 at the 2016 Network and Distributed System Security Symposium (NDSS '16) in San Diego, Calif., by researchers Wei Meng, Ren Ding, Simon Chung, and Steven Han under the direction of Professor Wenke Lee.

The study examined more than 200 participants who used a custom-built app for Android-based smartphones, which account for 52 percent of the U.S. smartphone market according to comScore's April 2015 report. Georgia Tech researchers reviewed the accuracy of personalized ads that were served to test subjects from the Google AdNetwork based upon their personal interests and demographic profiles; and secondly, examined how much a mobile app creator could uncover about users because of the personalized ads served to them.

Researchers found that 73 percent of ad impressions for 92 percent of users are correctly aligned with their demographic profiles. Researchers 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,

age group with 54 percent accuracy, and

could also predict income, political affiliation, marital status, with higher accuracy than random guesses.

Some personal information is deemed so sensitive that Google explicitly states those factors are not used for personalization, yet the study found that app developers still can discover this information due to leakage between ad networks and app developers.

"Free smart phone apps are not really free," says Wei Meng, lead researcher and a graduate student 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, personalized in-app ads absolutely present a new privacy threat."

How it Works

-Mobile app developers choose to accept in-app ads inside their app.

-Ad networks pay a fee to app developers in order to show ads and monitor user activity - collecting app lists, device models, geo-locations, etc. This aggregate information is made available to help advertisers choose where to place ads.

-Advertisers instruct an ad network to show their ads based on topic targeting (such as "Autos & Vehicles"), interest targeting (such as user usage patterns and previous click thrus), and demographic targeting (such as estimated age range).

-The ad network displays ads to appropriate mobile app users and receives payment from advertisers for successful views or click thrus by the recipient of the ad.

-In-app ads are displayed unencrypted as part of the app's graphical user interface. Therefore, mobile app developers can access the targeted ad content delivered to its own app users and then reverse engineer that data to construct a profile of their app customer.

Unlike advertising on a website page, where personalized ad content is protected from publishers and other third parties by the Same Origin Policy, there is no isolation of personalized ad content from the mobile app developer.

For the smartphone dependent population - the 7 percent of largely low-income Americans, defined by Pew Internet ("U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015"), who have neither traditional broadband at home nor any other online alternative - their personal information may be particularly at risk.

"People use their smartphones now for online dating, banking, and social media every day," said Wenke Lee, professor of computer science and co-director of the Institute for Information Security & Privacy at Georgia Tech. "Mobile devices are intimate to users, so safeguarding personal information from malicious parties is more important than ever."

The study acknowledges that the online advertising industry is taking steps to protect users' information by improving the HTTPS protocol, but researchers believe the threat to user privacy is greater than HTTPS protection can provide under a mobile scenario.

The researchers contacted Google AdNetworks about their finding.

Media Contact

Tara La Bouff
tlabouff@cc.gatech.edu
602-770-0264

 @GeorgiaTech

http://www.gatech.edu 

Tara La Bouff | EurekAlert!

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Robots as Tools and Partners in Rehabilitation
17.08.2018 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht Low bandwidth? Use more colors at once
17.08.2018 | Purdue University

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Color effects from transparent 3D-printed nanostructures

New design tool automatically creates nanostructure 3D-print templates for user-given colors
Scientists present work at prestigious SIGGRAPH conference

Most of the objects we see are colored by pigments, but using pigments has disadvantages: such colors can fade, industrial pigments are often toxic, and...

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

Im Focus: The “TRiC” to folding actin

Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.

Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

LaserForum 2018 deals with 3D production of components

17.08.2018 | Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Smallest transistor worldwide switches current with a single atom in solid electrolyte

17.08.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Robots as Tools and Partners in Rehabilitation

17.08.2018 | Information Technology

Climate Impact Research in Hannover: Small Plants against Large Waves

17.08.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>