Have you purchased an app on your Android mobile recently? If so, your personal information—full name, zip code, and email address—may currently be in the hands of the third party developer who created that new app you love so much.
Australian app developer Dan Nolan recently posted on his blog that he, without realizing, had access to everyone’s personal information who had purchased his app through Google Play. Google Play, formerly known as the Android Market, is the main platform for purchasing apps on Android mobile and is maintained by Google.
And this treasure trove of personal information that Nolan stumbled upon isn’t simply a glitch in the system, nor is it new. In fact, all consumers who purchase apps on Google Play have their personal information sent to the app’s developer without their consent (no information is sent when downloading free apps). App developers get your email address, your suburb, and often your full name.
Another developer, Jesse Wilson, posted an example of the information that Google Play makes available about app purchasers:
Nolan became concerned upon seeing his app users’ detailed personal info in his Google Checkout dashboard. He thought the information could allow ill-intentioned developers to “track down and harass users who left negative reviews or refunded the app purchase.” His blog post condemned Google for this blatant invasion of privacy and urged Google to change their policy.
From a privacy standpoint, the personal information that is being shared is excessive and unexpected, but what seems more surprising is the lack of knowledge—from both the developers and consumers standpoint—that it’s happening. Google Play never explicitly asks consumers if they’re okay with sharing their personal information, and as Nolan’s reaction upon stumbling across this information shows, many developers are equally in the dark. If Google insists on relaying users’ personal information to developers, it should tell consumers up front when purchasing the app, preferably with the option to opt out.
If you’re an Android user and want to avoid third-party developers having access to your personal information, you do have options. There are non-Google alternatives for many Android apps, such as the Amazon Appstore for Android.
In comparison, with iOS, Apple is the merchant of the purchase records–not the developers. The only information that Apple sends to the developers is the number of sales in each country and a non-identified Apple ID number. If you’re really perturbed by Android developers getting your personal info, you may want to make the switch to iPhone…not that either mobile platform has a stellar record on user privacy.