Remember address book-gate? Locationgate? I-don’t-know-what-my-apps-are-doing-on-my-phone-gate? (Oh, that last one might not be a real thing.) Regardless, we’re living in age where companies are pushing us to rethink the boundaries between what we consider private, personal information and what should be public. The resulting backlash is an overreaction(-gate) when we discover that some of the data we presumed to be ours alone was actually being stored, accessed and shared by others…in many cases, “others” being mobile app developers.
Well, leave it to a security firm to capitalize on the privacy scare trend. And by capitalize, I mean launch a $4 app that tells you what the apps on your phone are doing. Introducing Bitdefender’s Clueful.
Today, the security company has pushed Clueful into the iTunes App Store, claiming it can identify the “misdemeanant apps on your iPhone.” (I believe “misdemeanant” is fancy talk for “naughty.”) Of course, Apple iPhone users don’t have much to fear in terms of malware – Apple curates and tests apps prior to admission. Google has a bigger malware problem, as it only kicks apps out after they’re discovered to be malicious. That being said, even Apple can’t test everything. And some users don’t understand that a social feature on their phone may require an app taking a peek at their address book, for example (the horror!), or tracking their location (ack! I’m being stalked!).
While Bitdefender acknowledges that most apps are not malicious, it’s true that app developers can be careless with the way they handle user’s data. With Clueful, Bitdefender says it can now answer questions about what your apps are doing. It shows which apps are accessing your location, tracking your in-app usage, reading your address book, linking your actions across apps to a single identity, needlessly keep GPS running, thereby draining your battery, accessing your UDID, and a host of other ills. To do so, Clueful examines what applications are running in memory and then retrieves audit information from the “Clueful Cloud.” (That’s the name for the space where Bitdefender maintains all the data on apps, and it’s also the way they ensure communication between the app and Bitdefender’s research labs.)
To create the Clueful Cloud, Bitdefender built proprietary technology similar to what they use for their anti-virus products, but customized for iOS apps. But because it’s a proprietary technology and patent pending, the company won’t go into detail about the specifics of how it works. But the long and short of it is this: Bitdefender tests apps, creates a database, and then shares that info with the Clueful app to give you insight about the apps you use on your phone.
The iTunes App Store has hundreds of thousands of applications, but Bitdefender’s Cloud “only” has tens of thousands at launch. However, the database is still growing, and you can submit apps to be tested using the application.
I’ve got an embarrassing number of apps on my phone, but after installing and running Clueful, it still managed to surprise me. (Solitaire was accessing my address book? What?) But the news wasn’t all bad – most of my apps were behaving. Clueful nicely differentiates between apps that “can” do something (like access your address book) versus those that “could” do something (like track your location). Plus, it highlight the good things apps do for you, too, like encrypt your data, for example. I’m not sure the app is worth $3.99, but if you’re at all curious about your apps, or just privacy-sensitive, this isn’t a bad tool to use.