Despite Google’s constant harvesting of user data, the Masters of the Universe have reportedly banned apps with hidden data-harvesting features from the Google Play Store.
The Wall Street Journal reports that tech giant Google had removed dozens of apps from the Play Store after finding data harvesting code amongst the app’s code. The code was written by a Panamanian company, Measurement Systems S. de R.L., that is linked via corporate records and web registration to a Virginia defense contractor specializing in cyberintelligence, network-defense, and intelligence-intercept work for U.S. national security agencies.
The code was run on millions of Android devices and was found inside multiple Muslim prayer apps which have been downloaded over 10 million times. The code was also discovered among highway-speed-trap detection apps, a QR-code reading app, and multiple other popular consumer-focused apps.
Measurement Systems reportedly paid developers around the world to add the code to their apps. The code allowed the company to collect data from app users without their knowledge, according to Serge Egelman, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute and the University of California, Berkeley, and Joel Reardon of the University of Calgary.
The two researchers co-founded a company called AppCensus that examines the security and privacy of apps. The two said the Measurement Systems code is the most privacy-invasive SDK (Software Development Kit) they’ve seen in the six years they’ve been analyzing apps. Egelman stated that it can “without a doubt be described as malware.”
Google is infamous for the amount of data it sucks up from its own users. The personal data and location information collected from its users troubled its own engineers. Multiple states have now sued the internet giant over its deceptive location tracking practices.