Free apps used to spy on millions of phones: Flashlight program can be used to secretly record location of phone and content of text messages
They include the Super-Bright LED Flashlight, the Brightest Flashlight Free and the Tiny Flashlight+LED.
But few customers realise that many programs have capabilities far beyond switching on the phone’s light, according to American cyber-security firm SnoopWall, whose founder Gary Miliefsky has advised the US government.
Written warnings that data will be passed on to third parties are buried in the lengthy terms and conditions, which very few people read through.
Mr Miliefsky said: ‘We’ve all become victims of installing many apps on our smartphones and tablets that do much more than the service they should provide. We have opened a Pandora’s Box to online predators, cyber criminals and spies – all through these apps we foolishly trust.’
The agency said US software designer Goldenshores Technologies deployed ‘deceptive practice’ and that data had been passed on even when users had opted out.
Last night privacy campaigners in Britain called for closer scrutiny.
Emma Carr, director of Big Brother Watch, said: ‘Few of us would expect an app to be able to access our contacts lists, text messages or location data, yet so many of them do just that.
‘There needs to be far more awareness about how to protect your device and the data on it.
‘There is also a huge concern that the security around these apps can often be incredibly lax, with anyone with the slightest knowledge of how they work being able to access the data from them.