In brief: It's no secret that mobile apps harvest user data and share it with other companies, but the true extent of this practice may come as a surprise.
Researchers at Oxford University looked at nearly one million Android apps available on the Google Play store and found the median app shared user data with ten third parties and a fifth shared it with more than 20.
"We find that most apps contain third party tracking, and the distribution of trackers is long-tailed with several highly dominant trackers accounting for a large portion of the coverage", reads the report.
Multiple reports on the Google News Forums suggest there's a relatively widespread issue where the app is eating through data in the background - often to the tune of multiple gigabytes.
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And many people are not aware how data flows from smartphones to advertising groups, data brokers and other intermediaries, researcher Reuben Binns told the FT.
The researchers said this sort of data "enables construction of detailed profiles about individuals, which could include inferences about shopping habits, socio-economic class or likely political opinions".
The report, which first appeared in the Financial Times (paywalled) suggests that almost 90 per cent of free apps are leaking data back to Alphabet which can then be used in the increasingly cut-throat world of online advertising. Revenues from online advertising are more than $59bn (£45bn) per year in the U.S. alone, according to researchers. It goes on to explain how such third-party trackers use first-party mobile applications to link user activity across multiple apps to a single person, along with that person's activity on other devices and elsewhere on the web.
"We have clear policies and guidelines for how developers and third-party apps can handle data and we require developers to be transparent and ask for user permission".
The tech giant also took issue with parts of the study, saying that not all data that gets reported is personal information. "It mischaracterises ordinary functional services like crash reporting and analytics, and how apps share data to deliver those services", a spokesman said in a statement to Business Insider.