Clueful, the mobile privacy app Apple booted from its App Store for being too revealing — or possibly because of its own behavior — is staging a comeback. This time around, Clueful’s maker Bitdefender is targeting Android users instead, with plans to reveal what the apps on your phone are doing, and how your privacy may be compromised in the process.
Bitdefender, a company that makes a variety of anti-virus, anti-theft, and other security applications for web and mobile, first launched Clueful a year ago as a $4 iOS app that detailed how the apps on users’ phones handle – or mishandle, as the case may be – personal data. The app launched in the wake of a number of high-profile security events, like address book-gate and locationgate, for example. (And you know they’re bad when there’s a “gate” attached, right?)
For “unknown reasons,” Apple removed Clueful from its App Store shortly after its debut. The company spins this as “we revealed too much!” of course, but the more informed answer points to the fact that, to work, the app itself had to pull a list of apps from a user’s device, send them to Clueful’s servers and then cross-reference those with the apps it had in its database. Apple might not have cared for this process, especially considering the end result may have discouraged app downloads. Clueful later returned in a watered down web version.
Apple mobile device users, of course, don’t have much to fear in terms of malware because of how Apple tests and approves apps ahead of making them publicly accessible in its iTunes App Store. However, Clueful still plays on the sometimes misguided fears some have, who believe that software makers are always purposely and maliciously trying to track your location, acquire your personal or financial data, spam you or your friends with unwanted messages or emails, and more.
Often, apps accused of doing some or all of these things are more the result of a rush to launch or shoddy coding, more so than malicious intent. And sometimes, they’re just early stage startups, making mistakes. Then there’s the fact that some apps are designed to work with this “sensitive” data in ways that help you – an app that wants to help you find nearby events or set geo-fenced reminders, for instance, needs to know where you are.
Yes, there are malicious, virus-laden apps as well as those over-reaching in terms of what they need to function, but many operate in a gray area. So to the uninformed, being told that some app is “tracking you” can perhaps cause concern when little to none is warranted.
To Bitdefender’s credit then, at least the Android version of the application now ranks applications as low, medium or high risk, based on their “danger levels.” And you can also filter to just see those with “intrusive ads” that “send unencrypted data,” or “are viruses,” for example, which could be useful if you’re not prone to being careful with your installs or are worried you have a problem app on your hands.
On Android, Clueful is available for free, with an option to upgrade for added security, including a real-time web scanner, on-install and on-demand app scanner, and more. This is provided by the company’s anti-virus app, which costs $9.95 per year. That undercuts competitor Lookout’s Premium option, but it also lacks Lookout’s more comprehensive feature set which also includes remote wipe, lock, signal flare, locating lost phones, backup and restore, cross-platform support, and more. (Some of these options are available through Bitdefender’s other freemium apps, but not all.)
Clueful may find better footing on Android, though, where users do have to be more cautious because apps are not vetted ahead of launch. Plus, a good chunk of Android’s user base are those upgrading from feature phones to a low-cost smartphone, and are still technically unsophisticated when it comes to sorting the good apps from the bad.
The new version of Clueful is available here in Google Play.