Electronic Monitoring Smartphone Apps: An Analysis of Risks from Technical, Human-Centered, and Legal Perspectives

Authors: 

Kentrell Owens, University of Washington; Anita Alem, Harvard Law School; Franziska Roesner and Tadayoshi Kohno, University of Washington

Abstract: 

Electronic monitoring is the use of technology to track individuals accused or convicted of a crime (or civil violation) as an "alternative to incarceration." Traditionally, this technology has been in the form of ankle monitors, but recently federal, state, and local entities around the U.S. are shifting to using smartphone applications for electronic monitoring. These applications (apps) purport to make the monitoring simpler and more convenient for both the community supervisor and the person being monitored. However, due to the multipurpose nature of smartphones in people's lives and the amount of sensitive information (e.g., sensor data) smartphones make available, this introduces new risks to people coerced to use these apps.

To understand what type of privacy-related and other risks might be introduced to people who use these applications, we conducted a privacy-oriented analysis of 16 Android apps used for electronic monitoring. We analyzed the apps first technically, with static and (limited) dynamic analysis techniques. We also analyzed user reviews in the Google Play Store to understand the experiences of the people using these apps, and also the privacy policies. We found that apps contain numerous trackers, the permissions requested by them vary widely (with the most common one being location), and the reviews indicate that people find the apps invasive and frequently dysfunctional. We end the paper by encouraging mobile app marketplaces to reconsider their role in the future of electronic monitoring apps, and computer security and privacy researchers to consider their potential role in auditing carceral technologies. We hope that this work will lead to more transparency in this obfuscated ecosystem.

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BibTeX
@inproceedings {279902,
title = {Electronic Monitoring Smartphone Apps: An Analysis of Risks from Technical, {Human-Centered}, and Legal Perspectives},
booktitle = {31st USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 22)},
year = {2022},
address = {Boston, MA},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity22/presentation/owens},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug,
}