Taking Responsibility for Someone Else's Code: Studying the Privacy Behaviors of Mobile Apps at Scale
Modern software development has embraced the concept of ""code reuse,"" which is the practice of relying on third-party code to avoid ""reinventing the wheel"" (and rightly so). While this practice saves developers time and effort, it also creates liabilities: the resulting app may behave in ways that the app developer does not anticipate. This can cause very serious issues for privacy compliance: while an app developer did not write all of the code in their app, they are nonetheless responsible for it. In this talk, I will present research that my group has conducted to automatically examine the privacy behaviors of mobile apps vis-à-vis their compliance with privacy regulations. Using analysis tools that we developed and commercialized (as AppCensus, Inc.), we have performed dynamic analysis on hundreds of thousands of the most popular Android apps to examine what data they access, with whom they share it, and how these practices comport with various privacy regulations, app privacy policies, and platform policies. We find that while potential violations abound, many of the issues appear to be due to the (mis)use of third-party SDKs. I will provide an account of the most common types of violations that we observe and how app developers can better identify these issues prior to releasing their apps.
View the full PEPR '20 program at https://www.usenix.org/conference/pepr20/conference-program