Where were you in 2007? In January of that year there was a revolution in the world of technology: a new product was launched that changed the way we live our lives and how companies collect information about us. The iPhone was released and immediately experienced immense hype due to its numerous functions (phone, music player, web surfing,..). People were thrilled with the compact mobile device, and with further developments and more vendors, smartphones are now here to stay: about 80 percent of the world's population now owns one.
Cell phone applications - or (mobile) "apps" for short - existed before the iPhone, but they proliferated rapidly only after the release of the smartphone. An app is a type of software usually associated with operation on mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. Some apps are simply copies of popular websites adapted to smartphone displays, while other apps are standalone and completely new programs. When Apple opened its App Store in 2008, there were just 500 mobile applications for iPhone users. Today, there are more than 2.2 million. In the same year, Google launched its own app marketplace, Google Play, which today offers around 3.5 million apps. More than 90% of these apps are available free of charge.
Everyone who uses apps pays a hidden price: the price of their own personal data. As we use them in our daily lives, apps collect information about us that they can use or resell. From browsing history to phone contact lists, little information is safe from them here most of the time. The personal data apps collect about us can, for example, help third parties better target their audience and reach them with targeted advertising messages. As privacy experts, the team at heyData wanted to find out which mobile apps spy the most and are at the forefront when it comes to gaining access to personal data.
However, apps must ask for permission to access our personal data. However, many app users do not realize when this is the case. If you accept an app's terms and conditions without reading them, you may already be giving permission to access personal data. In other cases, nicely worded pop-ups like "We value your privacy" or "Help us improve" may actually be an access request from an app, giving it permission to use your personal data. By analyzing hundreds of popular, freely available apps on Google Play, we found out which apps in Germany make the most requests to tap into personal data. The result is the list of the top spy apps!
The aim of the study was to find out which apps make the most access requests for personal data. In April 2022, we examined 250 of the most popular apps freely available in Germany on the Google Play app store, including apps for social media, fitness, dating, music, news and traffic. For each available mobile app offered on Google Play, there is a corresponding landing page on play.google.com. On these landing pages, one can find more information about the app, including the data for which the app requires permission to access. This information can be found under the "Permissions" section.
We then recorded all the different permission requests, with the apps that made the most access requests being considered the apps that spied the most. The list of 250 apps was whittled down to a final list of 100 total, which was finally available here available here.