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August 13, 2010 > TechBits package - What your phone app doesn't say: It's watching

TechBits package - What your phone app doesn't say: It's watching

Submitted By AP Wire Service

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Your smart phone applications are watching you - much more closely than you might like.

Lookout Inc., a mobile-phone security firm, scanned nearly 300,000 free applications for Apple Inc.'s iPhone and phones built around Google Inc.'s Android software. It found that many of them secretly pull sensitive data off users' phones and ship them off to third parties without notification.

That's a major concern that has been bubbling up in privacy and security circles.

The data can include full details about users' contacts, their pictures, text messages and Internet and search histories. The third parties can include advertisers and companies that analyze data on users.

The information is used by companies to target ads and learn more about their users. The danger, though, is that the data become vulnerable to hacking and use in identity theft if the third party isn't careful about securing the information.

Lookout reported its findings this week in conjunction with the Black Hat computer security conference in Las Vegas.

Lookout found that nearly a quarter of the iPhone apps and almost half the Android apps contained software code that contained those capabilities.

The code had been written by the third parties and inserted into the applications by the developers, usually for a specific purpose, such as allowing the applications to run ads. But the code winds up forcing the application to collect more data on users than even the developers may realize, Lookout executives said.

``We found that not only users, but developers as well, don't know what's happening in their apps, even in their own apps, which is fascinating,'' said John Hering, CEO of the San Francisco-based Lookout.

Part of the problem is smart phones don't alert users to all the different types of data the applications running on them are collecting. IPhones only alert users when applications want to use their locations.

And while Android phones offer robust warnings when applications are first installed, many people breeze through them for the gratification of using the apps quickly.

Apple and Google didn't respond to requests for comment on Lookout's research.

- Jordan Robertson, AP Technology Writer

--- wants users to ask each other, not Jeeves

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - You won't be able to ask Jeeves, the butler that made the search engine now known as famous in the late '90s. But in a bid to engage more users, Ask is returning to its question-and-answer roots by tapping its users and the Web.

Ask is now building a community of users that ask and answer questions, while continuing to use its technology to find and rank answers on the Web. Answers from both sources will pop up on Ask's results page.

There's nothing new about farming out questions to individuals online. Yahoo Answers has done this for years, and Ask already has an ``Ask Answers'' feature that gives users answers from ``experts'' and around the Web.

But newer services such as Aardvark and Quora have helped reinvigorate the premise: Search giant Google Inc., which used to run a service where hired researchers answered questions from paying users, sees so much promise in community-based Q&A that it bought Aardvark in February.

Ask Networks President Scott Garell said his site is concentrating more on Q&A because it can be hard to find good answers to questions that are time-sensitive, objective and complex using a more conventional search engine like Google.

The site's hope is to eventually give users the answers they're looking for 90 percent of the time (it's currently about 60 percent).

A big part of accomplishing this will depend on the quality of the answers its users can provide through its new Q&A community. Ask has been building up a stockpile of questions and answers from users in a private testing phase this year and allowed anyone to request an invitation to participate starting Tuesday.

Tony Gentile, Ask's senior vice president for product management, said many questions being asked online revolve around how one should spend time or money or make a difficult decision.

Ask, which is owned by Internet company IAC/InterActiveCorp, routes questions to users who identify themselves as experts on specific subjects. To get the best answers, users vote on them; those getting enough positive votes would eventually trickle into search results.

And if you claim to be, say, an expert in space travel but consistently give answers that users find erroneous or unhelpful, Ask will stop routing that type of question to you.

``What we're ultimately trying to do is help people make a confident decision,'' Gentile said.

- Rachel Metz, AP Technology Writer

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