Apps on the Android platform can request no extra permissions or a bunch of them. While it is sometimes easy to find a reason for a permission, a web browser needs Internet access for instance, it is often not clear right away.
For instance, why does Angry Birds require permission to read the phone status and identity? Turns out it does not really but uses the information for analytics.
It is up to the user to install or block the installation of an app based on the permissions displayed before the installation starts, and that works considerably well for tech-savvy users who have enough experience to determine if a permission is required for an applications' core functionality or if it is used for marketing purposes or worse.
Privacy Grade, created by a team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, is a service that grades the privacy of smartphone applications.
It enables users to browse applications found on Google Play or search for an application right away. Information included a detailed list of permissions and explanations of them, in particular the what and why.
If you check the popular game Fruit Ninja Free for instance, you will notice that it uses some of the permissions for marketing and advertisement purposes. One of the reasons why it requires precise and approximate location permissions is that it uses the information to deliver targeted advertisement.
Besides listing permissions and explanations, Privacy Grade lists third-party libraries that are used by the application as well. The use of third-party apps can have several purposes. Apps may use the third-party Facebook library to use services provided by the site.
Other libraries may be used to display advertisement to the user while the app is being used, and if that is the case, it is highlighted by Privacy Grade as well.
Privacy Grade makes available other information that are useful. It highlights the most popular apps that you find on Google Play for instance, or reveals which permissions are being requested most often in each category.
Each app is graded after analysis which A being the best and F the worst grade available. Grades are assigned using a privacy model that the researches built. What it does basically is measure the users expectation of an apps' behavior and the actual behavior of an app. Detailed information about that is available on the FAQ page on the Privacy Grade website.
Privacy Grade is a much needed service on today's Internet. It appears that many Internet users install apps and games regardless of permissions that these programs request and are unaware of the consequences that this can have.
While the web service is great for checking apps that you have installed or plan to install, a direct solution in app form that intercepts the installation process and informs the user about that particular app would be more useful.
Still great service that will be an eye-opener for some users.
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