Your Android Apps Are (Probably) Not Snooping on You, a New Study Says

Most people download apps on their phones without much thought to the ways their texts, photos, and voice calls might be shared. This has given rise to conspiracy theories that apps are often spying on us without our knowledge or consent.

A new study performed by researchers at Northeastern University with some help from UC Santa Barbara offers reassuring evidence that most smartphone apps aren’t stealthily snooping on the people who use them. But those that do — look out.

“From a set of 17,260 apps, we uncovered few instances of covert recording (i.e. apps taking pictures or videos without users intentionally doing so),” the study authors wrote.

“On the one hand, this is good news: a very large fraction of apps are not abusing the ability to record media,” the study said. “On the other hand, it could also indicate that our analysis missed other cases of media leaks.”

The study, which was first reported by Gizmodo, only focused on Android apps, while future research will look at iOS app permissions as well as mobile-app interactions with Internet-of-things devices.

“Taken together, our study reveals several alarming privacy risks in the Android app ecosystem,” the study said. For instance, food delivery app GoPuff and mobile beta-testing platform TestFairy were singled out as leaking video or screenshots, although it was unclear whether the leaks were inadvertent or nefarious.

Other sub-par practices noted by the researchers included photo-editing apps that processed images in the cloud without notifying users about it in privacy policies and apps that request permissions that they didn’t use, opening the door to third-party code that could exploit the generous permissions.

All that said, the authors cautioned that more work needs to be done to make the paper’s conclusion more definitive.

DeepMind’s AI Is Now Beating Humans at Quake Because Winning in Go Wasn’t Terrifying Enough

Two years ago, DeepMind drew headlines by creating an AI system that defeated the world champion of the game Go. Now another program at the Alphabet subsidiary has learned how to play the popular multiplayer video game Quake.

DeepMind said Tuesday that it had developed innovations and reinforcement learning that enabled an artificial-intelligence system to achieve human-level performance in Quake III Arena‘s Capture the Flag, a 3-D first-person multiplayer game.

DeepMind said that learning to play Capture the Flag was intended as an exercise in which several individual agents must act independently, while learning to interact incorporate with each other. “This is an immensely difficult problem — because with co-adapting agents the world is constantly changing,” DeepMind said in a blog post.

Quake Arena III is a first-person shooter video game with simple rules — two teams protect their own flag while seizing that of their opponent — but also the potential for complex outcomes. The game requires players (or in AI parlance, agents) to cooperate with team members while competing with others amid a changing variety of maps.

The agents were never instructed about the rules of the game, yet were able to learn the game “to a very high standard,” DeepMind said. In a tournament randomly mixing AI agents with 40 human players, the agents quickly learned to exceed the win rate of their flesh-and-blood counterparts. Even scarier, human players rated the agents as more collaborative teammates than other humans.

“Agents in fact learn human-like behaviors, such as following teammates and camping in the opponent’s base,” DeepMind said on its blog. “In general, we think this work highlights the potential of multi-agent training to advance the development of artificial intelligence.”