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Anatomization and Protection of Mobile Apps’ Location Privacy Threats
Kassem Fawaz, Huan Feng, and Kang G. Shin, University of Michigan
Mobile users are becoming increasingly aware of the privacy threats resulting from apps’ access of their location. Few of the solutions proposed thus far to mitigate these threats have been deployed as they require either app or platform modifications. Mobile operating systems (OSes) also provide users with location access controls. In this paper, we analyze the efficacy of these controls in combating the location-privacy threats. For this analysis, we conducted the first location measurement campaign of its kind, analyzing more than 1000 free apps from Google Play and collecting detailed usage of location by more than 400 location-aware apps and 70 Advertisement and Analytics (A&A) libraries from more than 100 participants over a period ranging from 1 week to 1 year. Surprisingly, 70% of the apps and the A&A libraries pose considerable profiling threats even when they sporadically access the user’s location. Existing OS controls are found ineffective and inefficient in mitigating these threats, thus calling for a finer-grained location access control. To meet this need, we propose LP-Doctor, a light-weight user-level tool that allows Android users to effectively utilize the OS’s location access controls while maintaining the required app’s functionality as our user study (with 227 participants) shows.
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