Over 800,000 apps were delisted from the App Store and Google Play Store in the first half of 2021. Pixalate released a report pointing out that many of the platforms lacked privacy protections and contained “dangerous permissions.”
The reasons for delisting the apps could be multiple—from serious policy breaches to developers withdrawing them. The Pixalate report doesn’t detail who removed them or why, but it does give statistics on the dangers they posed.
The delisted platforms had more than nine billion downloads. 86% of them targeted children aged 12 and under. 25% of the Google apps and 59% of the Apple apps had no discernable privacy policies.
Another problem with 66% of the platforms on Google Store was related to the dangerous permissions. 27% could access users’ GPS location and 19%—the device’s cameras. Additionally, around 60% of the Apple apps lacking privacy protections were from China.
Concerningly, delisted apps can remain on users’ devices, but won’t be available to new users. This means that, if left on the users’ devices, they’re still a threat.
Apps harvesting sensitive data is worrying enough on its own. Adding the lack of privacy policies and the targeting of children to this, and the threat escalates. Both governments and corporations alike are upping the focus on protecting the youth.
Data can be used for a number of things, such as employee background checks or targeted advertising. While people’s views on the subject vary, these are legitimate uses with checks and balances in place to regulate them.
The situation is a lot hazier when it comes to apps that have no privacy policies and request dangerous permissions.
Where is the information going? Where is it stored? Can it be removed? What is it used for? A likely scenario is that data brokers could buy it and use it in services like people search sites. But there are more serious risks too.
The sensitive data on a device could be harvested for the purposes of fraud. In the case of GPS locations, it could also put users at physical risk, especially minors. People worried about their location data can always use VPNs to throw off tracking. However, not everyone does this and it doesn’t really help with installed software.
The delisting of apps is a necessary step to tighten security. Still, the delisted platforms constitute 15% of the five million analyzed. More work is needed, especially as thousands of new apps are added weekly.