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Lookout launches fee-based mobile security service

Lookout's new subscription service adds remote lock and wipe, photo backups, and a privacy adviser that tells you what apps are doing.

Lookout is expanding its cloud-based security service for smartphones today to include the ability to wipe or lock lost phones, backup photos, and find out what information installed apps are accessing on the device.

John Hering, Lookout chief executive officer.
John Hering, Lookout chief executive officer. James Martin/CNET

The new Lookout Premium service, which will cost $2.99 a month, or $29.99 a year, includes all the basics in the free version: antivirus, antimalware, backup and restoration of contacts, Web-based console management, as well as the ability to locate a lost phone via an online map and to force a "scream" on the device to help locate it in the event it is misplaced, John Hering, chief executive, told CNET.

But it adds remote wipe and lock, call history and photo backups, the ability to transfer data to a new phone, priority customer support and a new Privacy Advisor feature that provides some details about what each app on the device is capable of doing.

The Privacy Advisor scans all the apps on the device and lumps them into three categories based on the type of information they access: location, identity, and messages. Specifically, it tells you how many and which apps: tracks your location; read your mobile number, serial number, and other data; and accesses your SMS (short message service) and MMS (multimedia messaging service) messages.

Lookout's new Privacy Advisor feature provides details about every app on the smartphone.
Lookout's new Privacy Advisor feature provides details about every app on the smartphone. Lookout

You can click on individual apps for more details. For instance, Lookout tells me an app called AnyStop: MUNI has permission to track my precise location using GPS or mobile networks and send it off the phone. AnyStop: MUNI also has access to my mobile number and other identifiable information.

Privacy Advisor raises some questions it can't answer. For instance, it tells me that the Google Translate app, Voice Search, and Voicemail all can access my text and MMS messages, which makes sense. But I wonder why the app needs to track my location and access information that can be used to identify me and what the Tip Calculator app will do with my identifiable information it can access.

Even if someone were able to get a hold of your phone and install spyware, a Lookout customer could use the Privacy Advisor feature to find it. One example would be an app called SMS Replicator, which was available on the Android marketplace for a few days last week before Google removed it, according to Lookout.

The app, which was marketed as a surveillance tool for lovers to snoop on each other, automatically sends SMS messages to another phone, ostensibly the number of whoever downloads it on the device. When the app is installed, Lookout flags it as spyware, but because someone would have physical access to the phone that person could just ignore the alert and install the app anyway. However, the app would still be listed in the Privacy Advisor feature with a description of what it does.

The analysis of the iPhone and Android apps comes from the App Genome Project, a real-time database Lookout uses to detect malicious apps and alert users.

The Privacy Advisor feature was developed in response to peoples' worries about protecting the privacy of their mobile data. In a recent survey, Lookout found that more than 90 percent of consumers are concerned with the privacy of the data on their phone and only 7 percent of smartphone users feel extremely confident that they understand what private data is being accessed on the phone. On average, users have 31 apps on their phones that can access their identity information, 19 apps that access their location, and five apps that access SMS and MMS messages, according to Lookout.


Lookout, which launched its free service last December, has more than 3 million users, according to Hering.

The smartphone security market is heating up. Last week, Juniper Networks announced its offering targeted for enterprise users and service providers. Cisco, McAfee, and Symantec have services too. But Lookout's focus on consumers and its partnership with Verizon give it an edge in a world where popular personal technologies, like instant messaging, Facebook and iPhones, often become standard in corporate environments after becoming indispensable to consumers.

"We're seeing growing adoption by enterprise users who use their phone for both work and personal use," Hering said. "The next great security company will be built in the consumer market."

IDC analyst Will Stofega said Lookout was well positioned in the market. "They are ahead of the game in terms of the consumer market," he said. "That is something no one else is taking advantage of right now."