67 percent of China Android apps track users' data

Chinese research firm finds more than a third of apps published on China's various Android appstores track users' mobile data without them knowing.

Mobile apps on Chinese Android stores track user information without their knowledge, highlighting the platform's inherent vulnerability.

Mobile apps on Chinese Android stores are tracking and harvesting user data, and call records, SMSes and phone numbers face the highest risk of being stolen, a Data Center of China Internet (DCCI) report finds.

According to the research firm's findings released Wednesday, China's mobile phone users had reached 1.1 billion, with 400 million of them being smartphone users. Of the 400 million, 84 percent of them on Android operating system (OS), it noted.

The study also investigated 1,400 apps across China's various Android markets, and found that 66.9 percent of apps were tracking user data. Of this figure, 34.5 percent of them were doing "cross-border data tracking", which refers to tracking private data which has no connection to the app's function and users not being aware of this activity happening.

It was also found that call records, SMSes and users' contact lists were the most vulnerable to information disclosure.

Objective of mobile apps on Chinese Android marketplace
Objective Apps that do so because of app functionality (%)
Apps that do so not because of app functionality (%)
Reading phone records 26.1 73.1
Reading SMS records 38.9 61.1
Collecting user phone numbers 39.5 60.5
Reading contact lists 62.0 38.0
Making calls 70.9 29.1
Tracking location 74.1 24.9
Sending SMS 76.2 23.8
Collecting user data 91.5 8.5
Source: Data Center of China Internet, 2013 Mobile Privacy and Security Report

Mobile-related activities and apps in China frequently come under fire for mining user data and other security related issues.  In November 2012, an undercover investigation found "shady" mobile advertisement practices in China , including advertising on pirated copycat apps and mining user data to sell to advertising agencies.

Back in March 2011, Chinese antivirus firm NetQin, now known as NQ Mobile, was accused of being in cahoots with app developing firm Feiliu to inject malware into smartphones before charging users for removing them. This led to industry and consumer backlash for both companies.