Millions of people are being spied on by free apps they have installed on their mobile phones, security experts have warned.

Many flashlight apps which allow a device to be used as a torch also secretly record the most sensitive personal information. This may include the location of the phone, details of its owner and their contacts, and even the content of text messages.

The data is then transmitted to market research companies and advertising agencies to track user’s shopping habits, experts claim. But it is also suspected that criminal gangs, hackers and identity thieves have developed torch apps of their own to obtain personal data about consumers which could give them access to their bank accounts.

The most popular flashlight apps for Android smartphones have been downloaded tens of millions of times. They include the Super-Bright LED Flashlight, the Brightest Flashlight Free and the Tiny Flashlight+LED.

But few customers realise that many programs have capabilities far beyond switching on the phone’s light, according to American cyber-security firm SnoopWall, whose founder Gary Miliefsky has advised the US government.

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