MobileScan: Opening the black box of app data (updated 11/5/12 with Presidential campaign app scans)

It’s not hard to see how companies track you through traditional web browsers. Browser add-ons analyze web traffic, and through services like Privacyfix, we can even show you crowd-sourced tracking activity across tens of thousands of real-user browsers in our panel.

Understanding these events in mobile apps is significantly more difficult, because apps are standalone applications that are hard to modify, and mobile operating-systems (particularly Apple’s) give apps limited ability to see what other apps may be doing. As a result, an app can send data almost anywhere without awareness of the user (or even the developer for that matter).

This problem led us to launch of MobileScan, an open and free platform to allow anyone to see what data is transmitted by any iOS app, with the results decoded and organized using our map of the data collection universe.

For example, using MobileScan, you can compare the tracking and other data transmitted through the Presidential campaign apps:

Barack Obama
Mitt Romney

MobileScan makes privacy easier in two ways:

First, it allows app makers to see and understand third-party data collection, which means better decisions about which ad-company SDKs they embed into their apps. It also means better disclosure, since they can automatically export these results into their own privacy policy. By delivering this visibility for free to privacy-interested users and advocates, it also brings accountability to the decisions that those app developers make.

Second, for our own operations, the data we see across apps makes Trackerlist even more comprehensive, and is allowing us to understand better the patterns of app data collection. This has already led us to some interesting product plans and the data set will allow our partners to extend their own applications in some interesting and important ways. Stay tuned.

MobileScan brings transparency to tracking in mobile apps
PrivacyChoice innovation helps app publishers control privacy risks

June 27, 2012 – Santa Cruz, CA – PrivacyChoice, the leader in privacy-technology innovation, today announced the launch of MobileScan, the first and only open platform to analyze how mobile applications transmit data to third parties. Using MobileScan, which is free and requires no software installation, any app developer or user can test an app and view a detailed report about how it transmits data to other companies. For each company receiving data through the app, MobileScan reveals the company’s business functions and privacy practices, all server calls made and the amount of data transmitted.

“Until now, mobile apps have been a ‘black box’ when it comes to how they transmit data from a user’s device to thousands of platforms, ad networks and marketing companies,” said PrivacyChoice Founder Jim Brock. “MobileScan brings transparency to this process for the first time, which will encourage more accountable data collection practices and better consumer decisions about privacy.”

PrivacyChoice also announced a turn-key MobileScan subscription service for app publishers. “Give us your list of apps, and we will deliver scan results on an ongoing basis so you can better control third-party data collection risk and better inform your users,” Brock said. As a demonstration, PrivacyChoice published MobileScan reports for fifty popular apps, including WebMD (sending data to 15 companies), Fruit Ninja (10 companies), Draw Something (8 companies).

To use MobileScan, you redirect your network connection to a MobileScan proxy, and use the app as you normally would. Data-sharing events are automatically captured, analyzed and organized into a complete report, which includes company descriptions, functions and privacy qualifications. MobileScan results can easily be integrated with PrivacyChoice Policymaker, the leading self-serve privacy framework for mobile apps, to provide complete privacy disclosure for app users.

About PrivacyChoice

Founded in 2009, the PrivacyChoice mission is to make online privacy easier. For web users, PrivacyChoice offers tracking control tools (including TrackerBlock) that have been trusted by millions of web users. For mobile and website developers, PrivacyChoice provides a privacy framework that includes tracker monitoring, hosted privacy disclosure and custom consulting and implementation. PrivacyChoice’s data and platform also power services for Ensighten, Keynote Systems, Krux Digital and, among others.


Jim Brock, CEO

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One Response to MobileScan: Opening the black box of app data (updated 11/5/12 with Presidential campaign app scans)

  1. Pingback: Presidential Campaign Apps Get to Know You Really Well -

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