Sign up to receive 5 free days of our daily summary for tech news.

Stealth Chinese Apps Gather Data on Global Users

Selling utility apps such as battery savers and speed boosters might not seem like the path to world domination. But China’s biggest Internet firms are doing just that to amass hundreds of millions of international users—and gain an understanding of their browsing habits.

Companies like Baidu, China’s dominant search engine, Qihoo 360 and Sungy Mobile are spending heavily in marketing to sign up users around the world, including in the U.S., for an array of utilities also including antivirus apps and so-called launchers, which let Android phone users customize their home screens.

And because most of these apps are aware of nearly every app running on a device, having them on phones means the Internet firms get deep visibility into the consumers’ mobile habits. Much of that detailed data is flowing back to Chinese servers, according to analysis of some of the apps conducted at The Information’s request.

No subscription? You're missing out.

Join the high-powered community of tech and business leaders who rely on The Information's original news and in-depth reporting.

“They’re still learning how the user behaves,” said Mr. Thor, the former Qihoo investor. “Eventually they’ll want to offer their services in the U.S. because the U.S. is the world’s second-largest Internet market.”

Login or Subscribe to follow the discussions happening here and real-time in our   Slack Community.
Read comments from top tech and industry leaders
Joe Lonsdale
Joe Lonsdale
Founding Partner, Eight
Chamath Palihapitiya
Chamath Palihapitiya
Founder & Managing Partner, SocialCapital
Tina Sharkey
Tina Sharkey
CEO, Brandless
Jonah Peretti
Jonah Peretti
CEO, Buzzfeed
Adam D'Angelo
Adam D'Angelo
CEO, Quora
Brit Morin
Brit Morin
Founder & CEO, Brit + CO
Dustin Moskovitz
Dustin Moskovitz
Co-Founder, Asana
Christina Miller
Christina Miller
President & General Manager, Turner
Max Levchin
Max Levchin
CEO, Affirm
Adam Mosseri
Adam Mosseri
Director of Product, Facebook
Alex Mather
Alex Mather
The Athletic
Martha Josephson
Martha Josephson
Partner, Egon Zehnder
James Murdoch
James Murdoch
Co-Chief Operating Officer, 21st Century Fox
Andrew Kortina
Andrew Kortina
Founder, Venmo
Ben Chestnut
Ben Chestnut
Co-Founder & CEO, Mailchimp
Ruchi Sanghvi
Ruchi Sanghvi
VP Operations, Dropbox
As is typical of free apps, the utility products also toss off quite a bit of data. The Information asked Appthority, a mobile security firm that evaluates apps for enterprise users, to examine several of the most popular utility apps.