They seem like the most harmless of the thousands of free apps available for download to your smartphone, offering to turn your device’s camera flash into a handy torch.
Many flashlight apps may be able to detect the location of the phone, details of its owner and their contacts, and even the content of text messages, according to security experts and even the U.S. consumer-protection agency, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
In December of last year, the FTC cracked down on one of the most popular apps for Android mobile devices, which agreed to settle FTC charges that its free app, which allows a device to be used as a flashlight, deceived consumers regarding the use of geolocation information. The flashlight app shared customer data with advertising networks and other third parties.
The FTC’s target was Goldenshores Technologies, LLC, managed by Erik M. Geidl. This is the company behind the “Brightest Flashlight Free” app, which has been downloaded tens of millions of times by Android users.
Other similar apps include the Super-Bright LED Flashlight and the Tiny Flashlight+LED.
Few customers understand that many of these apps have capabilities beyond switching on the phone’s light, according to American cyber-security firm SnoopWall, whose founder Gary Miliefsky has advised the US government.
“We’ve all become victims of installing many apps on our smartphones and tablets that do much more than the service they should provide,” Mr Miliefsky told the Daily Mail. “We have opened a Pandora’s Box to online predators, cyber criminals and spies – all through these apps we foolishly trust.”
The business model of many free apps involve selling their customers’ data.