In particular, the team investigated the degree to which each platform leaks personally identifiable information—ranging from birthdates and locations to passwords—to the advertisers and data analytics companies that the services rely on to help finance their operations.
The answer? “It depends,” says [assistant professor David] Choffnes, a mobile systems expert in the College of Computer and Information Science. “We expected that apps would leak more identifiers because apps have more direct access to that information. And overall that’s true. But we found that typically apps leak just one more identifier than a website for the same service. In fact, we found that in 40 percent of cases websites leak more types of information than apps.”
The researchers will present their findings in a paper at the 2016 Internet Measurement Conference, in Santa Monica, California, in November.
The team’s aim is to help users make informed decisions about how best to access online services. To that end, they have integrated their findings into an easy-to-use interactive website that rates the degree of leakiness of 50 free online services, from Airbnb to Zillow, based on each user’s privacy preferences.
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Direct to Full Text Research/Conference Paper Discussed in Article: Should You Use the App for That?: Comparing the Privacy Implications of App- and Web-based Online Services (8 pages; PDF)