SmartPhone privacy: are you safe?

Author: | Posted in Gadgets, General, Security No comments

This is a guest post by Laura. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

The mobile market was revolutionised when Apple announced apps for their game-changing iPhone back in 2007 – apps can entertain us with games and music, they can help us get home when we’re lost, and they can put us in contact with our friends and loved ones.

However, concerns are growing regarding what else mobile apps can do – without you ever knowing about it.

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Track your location at home or when you travel. Read your personal emails and contact list. Trace your searches and web habits. Record your keystrokes when you’re making credit card payments. Make phone calls without your knowledge. And then legally sell this data on, for it to be used in ways you never knowingly consented to. There’s a lot going on behind that little black screen, and it’s making people worried about how much privacy they’ve got left.

In some cases, we accept these permissions before we install the app – although research shows that few people actually read the permissions before they click accept. In other cases, certain software is installed and automatically activated before you purchase it, and the user may never be aware its even there. This recently came to the fore with the public lawsuits against Carrier IQ, and the mobile phone carriers that support Carrier IQ’s logging software, which was automatically installed on earlier models of the iPhone, among other devices. An official statement said “software designed and sold by California-based Carrier IQ, Inc. was secretly tracking personal and sensitive information of the cell phone users without the consent or knowledge of the users.” Scary stuff.

A major US games company also came under fire in August for violating child privacy laws – collecting and maintaining over 30,000 emails containing email addresses, and in some cases have disclosing personal information to third parties. It was claimed that this violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which rules that a parent or guardian must give consent to a website operator before they can collect personal information from a child under 13 years of age.

So what can you do to protect your privacy?

First, look at your handset. Earlier models of the iPhone came with Carrier IQ automatically installed. Android have also been criticised for underhand data-gathering techniques. BlackBerry, who recently released the new BlackBerry Bold 9790, began developing their operating system with security in mind, and this has remained an important point of pride for the company ever since. This additional security may be reflected in the BlackBerry Bold price, but it’s a price worth paying.

Secondly, check out the app permissions for applications you already have installed. They should list the permissions that you’ve agreed to by installing that app – if you’re not satisfied, you can either change individual permissions, or delete the app entirely. Also keep in mind that when you update an app, the permissions for the update aren’t necessarily what they were for the old version.

Lastly, it’s worth taking a look through your phone’s settings to the features that are automatically enabled. Location services can be disabled in the iOS Settings app, although this can limit your phone’s functionality. Alternatively, you can adjust the permissions for each app you’ve allowed or denied permissions for. When you’re using an app, an arrow icon will appear in the status bar if that app is accessing your location information.

For the most part, companies don’t have any menacing intentions when they track our data – monitoring your location can be useful for giving accurate weather forecasts, and at the very worst we might receive more targetted advertising. Nonetheless, it pays to keep on top of what’s happening with your data, and a few simple measures can help you to do this.

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