A number of Android apps have started asking for a new permission from users called Activity Recognition. The feature allows third-party applications installed on a device access to a user’s physical location.

Activity Recognition was recently spotted by Duck Duck Go, a privacy-centric search engine and Google competitor, though there are some instances of the permission being present in apps prior to Duck Duck Go.

Activity recognition, like most Android permissions, appears when a user is going to install an app. For a fitness tracking application, activity recognition might not seem out of line. But the permission has recently been requested by a number of apps that one wouldn’t imagine would have any use for location data.

Duck Duck Go pointed to two apps—Shazam, a popular app used to identify music and other audio cues, and SoundHound, which provides a similar service—as examples that have recently started requesting the activity recognition from users.

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When access to activity recognition is granted to an app, that app is able to access sensor data from the Android device that provides insight into a user’s physical activity. The sensors can determine if a user is sitting, standing, walking, running, in a vehicle and all sorts of other motion-based information.

Activity Recognition is a part of Google Play services—an app that is installed on just about every Android device but which users rarely interact with other than to update it or when it crashes. It remains running in the background at all times and performs a number of vital functions including authentication, privacy services and location services.

While Google Play Services may be a vital application for Android users, the fact activity recognition stems from it makes it difficult to prevent any third-party application from accessing it. Activity recognition appears under “other” permissions, which users do not have individual control over like they do over granting access to their camera or microphone.

For the time being, it isn’t possible to deny an individual app permission to access activity recognition. If an app updates and requests it, most users won’t even notice since they are not prompted to grant of deny permission.

Unfortunately, there is little respite from the tracking data provided to third-party apps that use activity recognition. The best solution is to simply remove or choose not to install apps that make a request for activity recognition unless it is vital to the app’s operation.

Users can prevent apps that request activity recognition from running in the background, which at the very least will prevent them from tracking a person while the person isn’t even using the app.

To stop an app from running in the background, a user will have to kill the app’s processes. To do so, open the Settings app and scroll to Apps. This should present a list of apps on the device. Select the one that is needlessly using activity recognition and tap the Force Stop option. Note that the app will return to running the next time it is opened and the process will have to be repeated.

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