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Asia

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.

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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.