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Skyfire Horizon, the most evil thing on your Android phone

Android By Jul. 9, 2013 2:45 pm
Screenshot 2013-07-09 at 1.50.51 PM

Opera-owned Skyfire Horizon seems like a great way to bring browser extensions to mobile browsers, but instead is a carrier-approved spyware and ad delivery service that came pre-loaded on your new phone.

If you’ve purchased a phone from Sprint or AT&T in the last few months, the chances high you have a version of Skyfire Horizon on your phone. You may have noticed it when you launch the default browser on your phone. Sprint calls it the Lumen Toolbar, but it’s the same underlying technology and it works exactly the same as the Skyfire Horizon toolbar on AT&T.

It’s an innocent looking toolbar on the bottom of your browser that includes a handful of helpful tools. You can share whatever page you are on with your social network of choice, or use the Wikipedia extension to quickly look up words without leaving the page you are currently on. It’s the first mobile browser toolbar to attempt browser extensions that are similar to Chrome and Firefox, or so they claim.

If you head to the Skyfire Horizon website, you’ll see that they use a lot of pretty words to describe a service that hides really slimy practices behind the very thin veil of add-on features. The first thing you need to be aware of with Skyfire Horizon is that everything you do while the toolbar is active is recorded. Your browsing habits and location data are the big things that they are interested in, and as long as you use the browser and allow your location to be shared with the browser then that information is theirs to use.

The secondary collection tools are built into the extensions themselves. Sharing pages via their social networking share tools requires that you give the app access to your Facebook or Twitter in order to accomplish the share. In their own words “This creates ‘beach front’ property for Operator recommendations, promotions and advertising.”

There’s some other disturbing language in the Skyfire Horizon pitch page, namely the “robust web-based management portal that provides operators with the power and flexibility to add and modify extensions to the toolbar instantly” which seems to suggest the ability to modify the toolbar on your phone in real-time. As was demonstrated by Sprint earlier this week, capturing the browser and location data of their users was only the first step.

Skyfire Horizon is also capable of delivering targeted pop-up ads and app recommendations based on the information collected. So far, Sprint has only enabled this feature on the Samsung Galaxy S4, but the capability is already on dozens of smartphones between the two carriers.

Avoiding Skyfire Horizon altogether seems simple enough. You can disable the toolbar in the browser settings, though if history is any indicator it will just be reactivated with the next software update. In the apps section of the settings menu on your phone, SkyFire Horizon is listed as BrowserCustomization on AT&T and ToolbarService on Sprint. If either of these are listed as running even after you’ve disable the app, — which in our testing isn’t something that has happened — there’s a pretty serious problem.

You can also install another browser, where the toolbar can’t collect the data. Google’s Chrome for Android is a great alternative to the carrier-modified browser, and there’s no chance of something like Skyfire Horizon being permitted on Chrome.

Now read: Galaxy S3 explodes in woman’s pocket causing third degree burns

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