Software that gathers information about the apps installed on smartphones and how often they are used is quietly being installed on devices without their owners' knowledge.
App developers are being paid to include AppLog, a program developed by Tokyo-based Milog Inc., in apps for the Android operation system.
Once present on a phone, it will send information including the device ID, the names of other apps on the device, and the times each app is used to Milog once every day.
The app developer receives 1 yen ($0.013) per month per device in return for the information.
Milog analyzes the data and estimates the age bracket, gender, app preferences and other attributes of the user.
Mediba Inc., a Tokyo-based KDDI Corp. subsidiary that handles cellphone ads, delivers matching ads depending on the information delivered. For instance, a heavy user of stock trading apps might be targeted with advertisements from securities companies by Mediba.
AppLog's code has been available to developers since Sept. 27 and, although the service is still being rolled out, it is already incorporated into a variety of apps including tourist destination guides and a search engine for postal codes. The AppLog features are not stated clearly in the app descriptions.
When the apps are used for the first time, an explanation appears on the screen saying that the software will send device information and use it "to optimize ad distribution and for other purposes."
The user has the choice of refusing but, unless they read statements on Milog's website carefully, the full extent of AppLog's information gathering is not stated clearly.
Concerns are already been raised by Internet users about its privacy implications.
"People would refuse to agree if they were told the details, so the explanations are probably blurred on purpose," said one online poster. Another commented, "It is problematic that it propagates as a parasite in other apps."
Milog CEO Yohei Kiguchi said, "We have developed this program as a novel technology that can allow app developers to receive income, and we have taken multiple steps to check its potential problems."
He added, "We have never intended to conceal its functions, but we will make improvements if anything remains less than transparent."
The screen that appears on initial use was modified on Oct. 3.
Privacy issues connected with smartphone apps hit the headlines recently with the launch of "Karelog," an app that can be installed on a boyfriend or a girlfriend's smartphone to trace his or her location and phone call records. Distribution of Karelog is currently suspended.
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