Bug Fixes, Improvements,... and Privacy Leaks
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Is mobile privacy getting better or worse over time? In this paper, we address this question by studying privacy leaks from historical and current versions of 512 popular Android apps, covering 7,665 app releases over 8 years of app version history. Through automated and scripted interaction with apps and analysis of the network traffic they generate on real mobile devices, we identify how privacy changes over time for individual apps and in aggregate. We find several trends that include increased collection of personally identifiable information (PII) across app versions, slow adoption of HTTPS to secure the information sent to other parties, and a large number of third parties being able to link user activity and locations across apps. Interestingly, while privacy is getting worse in aggregate, we find that the privacy risk of individual apps varies greatly over time, and a substantial fraction of apps see little change or even improvement in privacy. Given these trends, we propose metrics for quantifying privacy risk and for providing this risk assessment proactively to help users balance the risks and benefits of installing new versions of apps.