New Collaborations on Exposing Tracking

Since 2010, the F-Droid community has been working to provide only 100% verified Free Software, and to make apparent all forms of tracking, advertising, and “anti-features” commonly found in apps. F-Droid provides a complete app ecosystem where users are actively notified of tracking and advertising in the apps, and can make informed choices. We have achieved this through the work of many dedicated volunteers reviewing apps as they are submitted, and marking the things that they find.

Researchers at Exodus Privacy and Yale Privacy Lab are working on taking the next big step, by creating tools for automating the process of finding all the various forms of tracking that apps can include. F-Droid will work with them to merge efforts, increasing the effectiveness of volunteers, and exposing the inner workings of software in daily use worldwide.

F-Droid represents a trustworthy method of getting apps, a libre and gratis alternative to the “app store” model that is driven by advertising revenue and data collection. F-Droid makes custom builds of Free Software like Firefox and Telegram, removing code that limits the freedom of its users. What we most often remove is third-party SDKs (Software Development Kits) that enable tracking while denying the user of the apps a choice.

There are pragmatic uses of tracking, such as usability testing, crash reporting, and release management. Even when such information is collected in an “anonymous” or “randomized” fashion, it often represents a unique data profile of a user that may expose private details. This is especially true when information is correlated with the rich data sets of software industry giants.

Billions of users around the globe are now running mobile platforms based upon Free Software, such as Android. For many, mobile devices are the primary gateway to the Internet. These devices are often collecting and transmitting intimate details about users such as behavior and location, through complex and hidden methods. The international Free Software community must continue to be a leader, protecting and restoring trust, privacy, and security in mobile computing.