Mobile apps come under fire

Apps on your smartphone may be doing more than linking you to maps or restaurant recommendations. An investigation into information-sharing practices says these apps could also be sharing your personal details.

Kara Tsuboi Reporter
Kara Tsuboi has covered technology news for CNET and CBS Interactive for nearly seven years. From cutting edge robotics at NASA to the hottest TVs at CES to Apple events in San Francisco, Kara has reported on it all. In addition to daily news, twice every week her "Tech Minutes" are broadcast to CBS TV stations across the country.
Kara Tsuboi
2 min read

I am a smartphone user and an app-aholic. I love apps that can help me navigate a foreign country, find a local restaurant, check up on baseball scores, and tweak a photo. And don't even get me started on solitaire apps; I've tried them all.

But recent news about several popular apps sharing users' information without their knowledge or consent is frightening and upsetting. Sure, I enter my ZIP code when searching for a nearby dry cleaner, but did I know that Apple would allow Yelp to use that data for marketing and advertising purposes? Nope. Or what about the mindless-but-addictive game Paper Toss? Did they need to know how old I am?

Pandora, the popular music-streaming Web site, released information this week confirming it had received a federal grand jury subpoena related to an investigation on smartphone app makers. It's not coincidental that Pandora's name came up a couple of months ago in a Wall Street Journal study. The Journal tested 101 apps and found that 56 of them shared their users' unique device identifier, unbeknownst to them. A smaller group of five apps, including Pandora and Paper Toss, shared much more than that, like users' gender, age, and location.

Pandora believes it's not alone in the grand jury inquiry, and neither does CNET Senior Writer Elinor Mills. She says that all app makers could be vulnerable to these charges. Also, Apple and Google, the makers of several popular smartphones, could also come under scrutiny for allowing this kind of activity without the people's consent. It's a sticky, complicated issue that leaves app users unclear what to do. Sure, you could look for that dry cleaner a number of other ways. But if you can't do it on your phone and with confidence that your information was private, the whole point of having a smartphone is completely defeated. Check out my video report on this issue below.

Watch this: Mobile apps accused of privacy violations