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Reducing Permission Requests in Mobile Apps

Martin Pelikan
Ulfar Erlingsson
Giles Hogben
Proceedings of ACM Internet Measurement Conference (IMC) (2019)


Users of mobile apps sometimes express discomfort or concerns with what they see as unnecessary or intrusive permission requests by certain apps. However encouraging mobile app developers to request fewer permissions is challenging because there are many reasons why permissions are requested; furthermore, prior work has shown it is hard to disambiguate the purpose of a particular permission with high certainty. In this work we describe a novel, algorithmic mechanism intended to discourage mobile-app developers from asking for unnecessary permissions. Developers are incentivized by an automated alert, or "nudge", shown in the Google Play Console when their apps ask for permissions that are requested by very few functionally-similar apps---in other words, by their competition. Empirically, this incentive is effective, with significant developer response since its deployment. Permissions have been redacted by 59% of apps that were warned, and this attenuation has occurred broadly across both app categories and app popularity levels. Importantly, billions of users' app installs from the Google Play have benefited from these redactions