A group of Rutgers University developers have created an Android app that tells users when their phones are tracking them.
Every time an app is being nosy -- for instance sharing the phone's location with advertisers or passing on preferences -- a banner appears across the device's screen, indicating clearly exactly what is going on.
As first reported by the MIT Technology Review, the team of developers, led by Janne Lindqvist, an assistant professor at Rutgers University, were motivated to build the app in part as a means of highlighting just how common app tracking and data sharing is becoming.
Android (and Apple) devices do use a small icon that indicates when location is being shared, but it's easy to miss that the icon is showing and the icon alone doesn't tell consumers exactly what is being shared or how.
Lindqvist told the MIT Technology Review that Android phone users who used a prototype of his app were shocked to discover how frequently they were being tracked. "People were really surprised that some apps were accessing their location, or how often some apps were accessing their location," he said.
The app could be ready for the Google Play store within a couple of months, but the real goal behind its development is to make companies like Google more open and transparent about how and why they collect data and to give consumers greater control over what can and can't be accessed or shared.