company Evidon is acquiring MobileScope, a tool that can determine whether mobile apps collect or share information about users.
The deal is expected to close on Wednesday; other terms were not disclosed.
Evidon plans to integrate MobileScope into its Encompass offering -- a subscription-based service that enables online companies to see how their services are mined for data by ad networks and other third parties. MobileScope is in some ways similar to Ghostery, acquired in 2010 by Evidon, which monitors how trackers collect data from Web sites.
MobileScope was unveiled last year by privacy experts Ashkan Soltani, Dave Campbell and Aldo Cortesi. While Evidon intends to roll MobileScope into the company's services for businesses, Soltani says that he and the other developers created the tool to enable consumers to learn how apps were collecting and sharing data. “Originally we built it so that anyone could detect and block suspicious activity on their smartphones,” he says.
Without this type of tool, people often have no way to know how apps are using data. For instance, consider the scenario where a restaurant app asks smartphone users for permission to access their exact location, in order to determine which restaurants to show them. Users who say yes know that they're sharing location data with that app. But they don't necessarily know that once the app obtains geolocation data, it might share that information with mobile ad networks.
MobileScope attempts to fill in those gaps by determining whether an
app is transmitting data and, if so, to whom.
The product was released in beta last year, and drew interest from more than 6,000 users who signed up try it out. The developers only invited a small number of those people to test the product, Soltani says. He adds that MobileScope is not sharing information with Evidon about any of the people who signed up to test the tool.
acquisition comes at a time of increased interest in how apps are collecting data. Last month, the trade group Networking Advertising Initiative unveiled a proposal for new rules regarding ad targeting based on data collected across more than one app.
The NAI's proposed rules would require companies to obtain users' opt-in consent before collecting geolocation data and “personal directory data” -- which includes address books, photos or videos stored on devices and logs of phone calls. The umbrella trade group Digital Advertising Alliance also is expected to soon issue mobile privacy rules.