Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a weekly series in which MainStreet spotlights one new smartphone app to help readers manage their money, shop better or improve their job search. Check back each week to find out how to make your smartphone even smarter!
NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Wondering how much personal information your mobile apps might have access to? This new app will help you find out.
Ad Network Detector, a free Android app from the mobile security firm Lookout Labs, scans the apps on your phone or tablet to determine which ad networks operate within the app and how much information they have access to on the device.
As Lookout Labs points out in a press release, it should come as little surprise that an app like Foursquare has access to your location data, since the entire purpose of the app is to share your location with friends, but other apps track more information than you might think they need. For example, when we tried out the app, we found that popular apps like Words With Friends and Grooveshark have the potential to use location information for marketing purposes.
Some of these applications can access even more details from the phone, based on the permissions the user agrees to when initially launching the apps. For example, Words With Friends can access contact data (presumably to find friends to play with) and can find out if you’re currently making a phone call. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal app has permission to automatically call people without having the user dial, though this may simply be because certain phone numbers are hyperlinked within the app and can be dialed directly.
To be clear, there is no indication that any of these apps are using the data maliciously. But if the apps on your phone can find out so much about you, then you should be able to find out a little more about them.
You can download the Ad Network Detector app here.
Seth Fiegerman is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @sfiegerman.