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Old Dec 19, 2010, 11:08 AM   #1
Mark Booth
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Angry Birds - Mining Contacts information?!

For those not familiar with the backstory.... Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published a story titled: Your Apps Are Watching You. The story covers 101 iPhone/Android apps and goes into some detail on how these apps may be mining your personal information:

http://blogs.wsj.com/wtk-mobile/

(Click on individual apps at that page to see more detailed information for each app.)

I noticed that Angry Birds (paid, not lite) is one of the few apps tested that mines Contacts information.

I'm generally not paranoid about such matters, but touching the Contacts information seems a bit out of line. I understand mining a variety of other data to be used in aggregate for improving gameplay, adding features, etc. But Contacts?!?

I've written Rovio to ask them to clarify. But perhaps someone here knows/understands what is going on?

Mark

EDIT: Rovio has responded. See message #29.

Last edited by Mark Booth; Dec 20, 2010 at 09:17 AM.
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 11:10 AM   #2
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Isn't that against app store policy? I thought Jobs was big on privacy?
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 11:42 AM   #3
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I would imagine with Apple's App Store track record this story is going to get bigger.

iPhone maker Apple Inc. says it reviews each app before offering it to users. Both Apple and Google say they protect users by requiring apps to obtain permission before revealing certain kinds of information, such as location.

Sounds to me like that isn't happening. For all the time Apple spends on the approval process of apps how is this even happening?
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 11:57 AM   #4
Mark Booth
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The WSJ article doesn't clarify whether users have to opt-in in order for certain personal information to be shared. That may very well be the case. With some (most?) apps, the use of location information is quite obvious. And you can control which apps have access to location information within the settings menus.

The other information (username, phone ID, etc.) is not really a concern of mine. Gathering that information is not any different than cookies via a web browser. Every site you visit has the ability to detect your IP.

But Contacts information should be taboo. That would be like a web page digging into your address book.

I'm not yet ready to condemn Rovio for this supposed practice because I'm not so sure the WSJ article is being completely forthright with HOW Rovio is mining the Contacts information. It's quite possible it IS an opt-in situation (you have to grant Rovio permission to access that information). But until Rovio clarifies the situation, no more Angry Birds for me.

Mark

Last edited by Mark Booth; Dec 19, 2010 at 12:04 PM.
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 12:02 PM   #5
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I'm looking at these apps and most of these are no brainers... Foursquare sending out your location? Really a location based app knowing your location. An SMS replacement app knowing your phone number... Most of these are apps that you're expressly given consent to and all location based apps all ask you permission to use the location services.

The only problem I have is sending my phone ID to third parties. I understand using the phone ID on apps, some of them use it instead of a login.

This article is a fear mongering article and nothing more.
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 12:03 PM   #6
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I'm not yet ready to condemn Rovio for this supposed practice because I'm not so sure the WSJ article is being completely forthright with HOW Rovio is mining the Contacts information. It's quite possible it IS an opt-in situation (you have to grant Rovio permission to access that information).
What do you mean? The article puts Address Book under their "Explicitly Asks Permission to Access" section. That seems pretty clear to me.

What isn't clear is the rest of the article. "Password and User Name?" User name for what? Angry Birds doesn't have a password. Are they talking about Game Center? The iPhone pin code? That's all very vague.
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 12:10 PM   #7
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What do you mean? The article puts Address Book under their "Explicitly Asks Permission to Access" section. That seems pretty clear to me.
The article places the Address Book under "Explicitly Asks Permission to Access". But, separately, the article lists "Contacts" as being sent to third parties. It is NOT clear whether that Contacts information is being send independently of whether or not you granted permission to access the address book. One would hope and assume that it's only after you grant permission. But I'd like clarification from Rovio.

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Old Dec 19, 2010, 12:11 PM   #8
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I'm looking at these apps and most of these are no brainers... Foursquare sending out your location? Really a location based app knowing your location. An SMS replacement app knowing your phone number... Most of these are apps that you're expressly given consent to and all location based apps all ask you permission to use the location services.

The only problem I have is sending my phone ID to third parties. I understand using the phone ID on apps, some of them use it instead of a login.

This article is a fear mongering article and nothing more.
But if they use your Phone ID, doesn't that mean that if you sell your phone, the buy can get into your stuff?
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 12:11 PM   #9
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But Contacts information should be taboo. That would be like a web page digging into your address book.
The question is. Do they mine you contact information, or take the information when you click on certain things like crystal or gamecenter?

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But if they use your Phone ID, doesn't that mean that if you sell your phone, the buy can get into your stuff?
Yes. I know Storm8 has an easy precess to move your account from one phone to another, but out there right now someone is able to play a few games as me on my old 3Gs.

Not all of them use that method, but my Phone ID isn't a big deal. It's no more scary as my IP address and cookies.
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Last edited by Mitthrawnuruodo; Dec 19, 2010 at 02:09 PM. Reason: Merging posts, please use MULTIQUOTE and/or EDIT...
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 12:19 PM   #10
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This article is a fear mongering article and nothing more.
No.

This is a huge problem that's probably going to get worse before it gets better. There's huge pressure on app makers to collect information that the app doesn't actually need.

The examples in the article may not be all that great, but they're there to give you an idea of what's being taken from you.

Heck, one of the reasons why I stopped using my work Android phone was running into apps that would take absolutely everything they could take, even if it had on bearing on the app. One great example of this was a process monitor, which was going to report my location, phone number, contacts and a lot more.

Not a single bit of it was needed for the app to function. It was simply a trojan horse put out there to collect information.

I've run the iPhone Diagnostic Monitor while using some apps, and you can clearly see when certain bits of information are sent away. I suspect some apps are better at hiding this than others are.

I had thought the App Store was a better barrier for this sort of thing, but the more I think of it, it's probably fairly easy to hide data collection. The volume of apps going through the approval process alone tells you that there's probably simply not enough time to fully check each app.

Anyone who thinks this isn't a valid issue overall (opt-in notwithstanding) isn't seeing the whole picture, I think.
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 12:32 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark Booth View Post
The article places the Address Book under "Explicitly Asks Permission to Access". But, separately, the article lists "Contacts" as being sent to third parties. It is NOT clear whether that Contacts information is being send independently of whether or not you granted permission to access the address book. One would hope and assume that it's only after you grant permission. But I'd like clarification from Rovio.

Mark
The WSJ show example of piss poor journalism hiding the truth. To gain access to contacts you have to OMG give it permission. The contacts are sent to Google which I would be willing to bet what handles that part for them and is one of the service Google provides.

They make it hard to find out the real truth.
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 12:32 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark Booth View Post
The article places the Address Book under "Explicitly Asks Permission to Access". But, separately, the article lists "Contacts" as being sent to third parties. It is NOT clear whether that Contacts information is being send independently of whether or not you granted permission to access the address book. One would hope and assume that it's only after you grant permission. But I'd like clarification from Rovio.

Mark
Well IF it's happening that way then the number-one selling game on the app store is blatantly lying to Apple and breaking their store rules. (By asking for permission to access the contacts and then ignoring your response.)

So if it's true, expect to see front-page stories on this site later this week. Also, given the importance of the app store, I'd expect to see front page stories on many regular newspapers as well. It'll be big tech news all over the world.

So it's interesting that, if true, the WSJ decided to bury this amazing story in a little internet factoid graphic.

Not saying it's not true, but if it is I'm supremely baffled by how the WSJ is using that information. Just wait a few days. If it doesn't become a huge story then you'll know it's not true.
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 01:00 PM   #13
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The App Genome Project did this research a while back, pointing out how many Android and iOS apps had access to information.

Of course, access doesn't equal misuse, so it's interesting to read this analysis of actual data transmission.

The point is, there is no such thing as a "safe" environment. And Apple's store is not substantially better in this respect.

Due to the number of submittals and the lack of staff, Apple has just minutes to review each submission... and they've amply shown that they're far more concerned with watching for copyright / UI / API / duplicate violations, than about what the app actually does behind the scenes... especially if anything is timed to only kick in later on.

Android and Blackberry OS are more secure in some ways, because apps are written in managed Java code (instead of native code which can easier exploit buffer overruns etc) and must request permissions during installation. Groups looking for possible violations can use those permission lists to easily pick out which apps to check, unlike iOS where any app is a potential violator.
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 01:34 PM   #14
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One other thing I'd like to know....

Angry Birds is a multitasking app. And, as such, it's a real battery eater when it's left running in the background. More so than just about any other app that I've used. If I don't go into the multitasking tray and manually end Angry Birds' running in the background, it can pretty much wipe my iPhone's battery in a single day.

So, what I'd like to know.... Why is Angry Birds using so much battery in the background? Does Angry Birds actively share data such as location information or mine the contacts information while it is running in the background?

I'm just asking questions, not making accusations.

Mark
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 02:02 PM   #15
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One other thing I'd like to know....

Angry Birds is a multitasking app. And, as such, it's a real battery eater when it's left running in the background. More so than just about any other app that I've used. If I don't go into the multitasking tray and manually end Angry Birds' running in the background, it can pretty much wipe my iPhone's battery in a single day.

So, what I'd like to know.... Why is Angry Birds using so much battery in the background? Does Angry Birds actively share data such as location information or mine the contacts information while it is running in the background?

I'm just asking questions, not making accusations.

Mark
I think you are reading to much into anger birds. I have not seen it have any effect active or not. Just it is in a saved state and frozen.
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 02:07 PM   #16
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I think you are reading to much into anger birds. I have not seen it have any effect active or not. Just it is in a saved state and frozen.
Again, I'm just asking questions. And the main question is, WHY does Angry Birds use so much battery when it's in a saved/frozen state? That fact is NOT my imagination.

Mark
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 05:48 PM   #17
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I think you are reading to much into anger birds. I have not seen it have any effect active or not. Just it is in a saved state and frozen.
I dunno... I don't have angry birds but I do have Assassin's Creed and I have a feeling it does the same thing to my iphone.

I think though it's a bug in the programming (it doesn't always do this but I'm pretty sure it's the reason for example I went to bed, had fully charged the iphone so I didn't leave it on its charger, and next morning it was 3/4's battery gone... basically I had not used the phone at all on a fully charged battery and overnight the battery drained. Oh, and my battery had randomly drained that day as well which is why it was fully charged when i went to bed, I went ahead and charged it before going to sleep, usually I just charge it while I sleep). And a few times this week I've noticed the battery drain randomly (Always I had been playing that game a lot and left it running in the background). And I know it's not my use since I wasn't using the phone any more than normal (usually I use up about a quarter to maybe a half of hte battery if I'm really using it a lot before the end of the day. These times the battery was almost drained with no extra use, sometimes pretty light use).

Now I'm trying to take care to always quit that program (like pull it up in the multi tasking bar and quit it) when I'm done. Haven't had the battery be randomly drained yet since.
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 05:50 PM   #18
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Again, I'm just asking questions. And the main question is, WHY does Angry Birds use so much battery when it's in a saved/frozen state? That fact is NOT my imagination.

Mark
I suspect if it is like Assassin's Creed it's a bug in the program dealing with the multi tasking part. Try actively quitting it when you're done with the program and see if it happens again.
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 05:53 PM   #19
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Angry birds is constantly running on my iPad and I haven't seen any battery issues. Now,if its mining contacts, I'd like to know and I'd like to know why.
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 06:45 PM   #20
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Again, I'm just asking questions. And the main question is, WHY does Angry Birds use so much battery when it's in a saved/frozen state? That fact is NOT my imagination.

Mark
Well then maybe there's something wrong with your phone. Angry Birds has no discernible effect on my battery when it's closed.

Dunno what to tell you, but I don't think it's the game or it would affect everyone.
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 06:49 PM   #21
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So, what I'd like to know.... Why is Angry Birds using so much battery in the background? Does Angry Birds actively share data such as location information or mine the contacts information while it is running in the background?
Absolutely nothing.

It is quite simply NOT POSSIBLE for an iOS App to run for longer than 10 minutes after it is closed.

There isn't a way of doing it in iOS, even if Apple somehow let it into the App store.
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 06:51 PM   #22
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I had thought the App Store was a better barrier for this sort of thing, but the more I think of it, it's probably fairly easy to hide data collection. The volume of apps going through the approval process alone tells you that there's probably simply not enough time to fully check each app.
It's difficult to check Apps when you don't have access to the source code.

What is the web browser you're reading this with doing right now in the background?

iOS doesn't have a user facing permissions system like Android does (except for Location and Push Notifications).
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 07:39 PM   #23
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I've gotten so used to "force quitting" Angry Birds (going into the multi-tasking tray and closing Angry Birds) that I haven't tested its battery chewing under the current version. In fact, I believe there's been a couple of updates since I first realized it was eating battery in the background. Perhaps the problem has been fixed in the updates?

Mark
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 10:47 PM   #24
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Absolutely nothing.

It is quite simply NOT POSSIBLE for an iOS App to run for longer than 10 minutes after it is closed.

There isn't a way of doing it in iOS, even if Apple somehow let it into the App store.
Things can glitch you realize.

Just cause they aren't supposed to do that in software, doesn't mean they don't glitch and some how do do that.

As I said, I'm pretty sure Assassins' Creed does that to my iphone and I'm pretty sure it's a glitch (not that they designed it do that but some bug hits sometimes and it happens).
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Old Dec 19, 2010, 11:07 PM   #25
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It would be intersting to see if Angry Birds version 1.0 mined this information too. If it does, I'd say it's probably less of a problem because they had no idea how popular the app would be, but if that API has been added in a subsequent update, I'd be more worried.
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