[Click to Enlarge] Your favorite iOS and Android apps just LOVE to share. Some share your info with advertisers with your permission -- others do it without.  (Source: WSJ)
Federal Grand Jury subpoena could open Pandora's box

While the threat of malware on smartphones seems to be rising, another issue for mobile applications is being investigated by a Federal Grand Jury. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that federal prosecutors in New Jersey are looking into whether or not a number of smartphone applications illegally obtained and/or transmitted user information without properly disclosing what type of data they collected and why they needed it to begin with. According to WSJ, collecting user information without correct disclosure could possibly violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which helps prosecute hackers. 

In December, it was discovered by WSJ that an unsettling number of iOS and Android apps obtained personal data and shared it -- most commonly with advertisers for a fee -- without warning. WSJ examined the transmissions of 101 Android (Google) and iOS (Apple) apps. According to the report:
[The results] showed that 56 transmitted the phone's unique device ID to other companies without users' awareness or consent. Forty-seven apps transmitted the phone's location in some way. Five sent age, gender and other personal details to outsider.
The music-streaming app Pandora was found to belong in the latter category, with both versions of its app transmitting age, gender, location, and "unique identifiers for the phone" to advertisers. 

Yesterday, Pandora announced in an SEC filing that it had received a subpoena (related to the Grand Jury investigation), which the company said it believed had been issued "on an industry-wide basis to the publishers of numerous other smartphone applications," and that it was "not a specific target of the investigation." 

The creator of the Pumpkin Maker iPhone app, Anthony Campiti, also received a similar subpoena. "They're just doing information-gathering to get a better understanding" of the industry, Campiti told WSJ. "We're not doing anything wrong and neither is anyone else doing anything wrong."

Although the investigation is significant because it involves potentially criminal implications, the months-long probe may not result in any charges because, generally, companies aren't often charged with crimes. Rather, the case could morph into a civil one. "Companies in the federal government's cross hairs often reach non-prosecution or deferred-prosecution agreements that allow the targets to avoid being criminally charged," WSJ writes.

Apple, Google, Pandora, and a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney in New Jersey all declined or could not be reached for comment.

"This week I got an iPhone. This weekend I got four chargers so I can keep it charged everywhere I go and a land line so I can actually make phone calls." -- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

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