Are Your Apps Compromising Your Privacy?

The world has gone mobile, and that means millions of apps are being installed every day on smart phones, tablets, and other devices that rely on Internet access. What most people don’t know is that when they download an app, they are subject to user agreements that allow the owners of the apps to collect personal and private data that will be shared with advertisers. You might think that apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, and other social media platforms would be the worst offenders, but according to Forbes staff Parmy Olson, the worst offenders are actually games like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds. Locational data is one of the things these apps collect. The game developer doesn’t care where you play, but the advertisers who pay the game developers to include their ads in the app most definitely do.

App Grades

PrivacyGrade.org Database Scores on User Expectations VS Actual App Behavior.

You might’ve noticed that apps nowadays will inform you about what type of data they collect before you finish installing it. As an advocate for transparency in all facets of life, simply stating that your data is being collected is not enough; the developers of these apps and games should let you know exactly where your data ends up, who’s buying it, and for what purpose. On the other hand, it’s a little understandable that free apps require advertisers in order to stay in business. But it’s also important not to confuse this data collection with up-front advertising on certain free apps that allow you to pay a small fee to remove ad banners. This fee only pays for your right not to be advertised at directly, It does NOT mean they stop collecting your data! It only means that you’ll be advertised to later through a different medium.

So how far does this go? How much data is being collected? A driving apple called Google Waze collections your locational data, but it also shares this data with local governments! Doesn’t that strike you as “Big Brother” behavior? It’s not a matter of whether you have something to hide, but rather a reasonable expectation of privacy within your own property – including your car and where you’re going every day! It can go further than that. Last month Twitter unveiled Fabric, a platform for building mobile apps. Included in the tools is something called Digits, which is used to send SMS Registrations to people signing up for mobile app services. Normally this would an expensive undertaking for the owner of the app, but with Digits, Twitter would be paying for the text delivery. However, Twitter also gets to keep the phone numbers for advertising purposes. This behavior isn’t explicitly explained to anyone downloading or registering for the app!

So the question remains: Are your apps compromising your privacy? YES, absolutely they are! The more important question is this: do you care enough to make changes to your mobile behavior?

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The Facebook Giveaway Scam

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You must’ve seen it before: Pages on Facebook claiming to give away FREE iPads, iPhones, and other Apple accessories. That’s right, FREE! Did I mention it was FREE? All you need to do is Like and Share the Page with all your friends and you’ll be automatically entered into this FREE giveaway! Simple, right? So what are you waiting for?

STOP!!!

Before you agree to any terms and conditions set out by this “altruistic” Facebook Page, just note one thing: IT’S ALWAYS A SCAM! Unless you see news from an official Apple source and not just some Page that was created a month ago (that’s right, check the creation date of the Page!), your default reaction should always be “It’s a scam!” Every. Single. Time.

So what do they get out of someone just sharing a Page? Information about you, and everyone you get to share. How? Take a look at this section here:

Share What do you suppose happens when you click on the number of shares so far? It shows you a list of everyone who shared the Page, image, or post, which in turn gives you access to any public information on those people’s accounts, including geographic location, email addresses, websites, and even phone numbers. In the world of scam artists, this type of information is absolutely crucial, especially when the old method of acquiring that sort of information requires the purchase of mailing lists, which can be unreliable and expensive. By participating in these Facebook scams, you’re literally helping the scam artist! So what comes next after your Like and Share? Most likely they will have a link for you to click on that requires you to fill out a simple survey to enter completely. Like so:

Giveaway

Notice that the top three “offers” you have to complete involves installing something on your computer. Any time anyone tells you to install something so that you get something else for free, they’re either scammed or trying to scam you. The rest are surveys you need to fill out, which requires you to enter your email address, name, phone number, physical address, and date of birth. Getting this type of info from you is every scam artist’s wet dream! Not only that, let’s take a look at the privacy policy of these so called “survey” and “contest” sites:

privacy noticeShown above are the last 3 segments of a long privacy policy that basically says that you’re agreeing to let them sell or transfer your personal information to anyone, including third parties, if their company ever gets bought, merges with another company, creates an alliances with another company, etc. Oh, and also they can change their Privacy Policy at anytime without notice to you, because the onus is on YOU to come back and check the page. Any legitimate company or website worth their salt will send you a notice via email.

These types of scams are incredibly effective because they take advantage of the hype built up by official companies like Apple, who spent millions of dollars to generate hype and demand. Scam artists take advantage of this by using powerful and enticing terms like “FREE” (notice the all caps for emphasis), and “Giveaway”. Everyone wants free stuff; it’s a very basic marketing tactic that’s been around as long as commerce. Don’t participate in it. The battle to end the trade and sale of your personal information begins with you! Be mindful of marketing language, and more importantly, always be aware that scams are still a rampant problem. Every new social platform gives these crooks and criminals a new way to implement their old tricks. Remember: in the world of social media, protecting yourself also means protecting your friends and family.

Ello’s Invite-Only Platform, Paid Features

I am currently a member of Ello, the latest social network that is primed to take on Facebook and win the hearts and minds of users with its seemingly altruistic philosophy. No advertising, options to opt out of standard data collection on users, and more importantly, a free-to-use network that will never set a mandatory price. It appears the only way to become a member of Ello is to submit your email and wait for an invite from the Ello admins, or to have a friend who is already a member send you an invite. Every new account can invite up to 5 people. While I get that it could help weed out potential fake accounts, I also see it as a weakness, and a cumulative one at that. One spam account can invite up to 5 spam accounts, each with the ability to invite up to 5 spam accounts. Hopefully Ello will spend a little time explaining how they would combat an exploit like that. Let’s move on to my experience so far!

First Impressions

Ello’s in its beta phase, so I will refrain from being too harsh. My first impression is one of slight confusion. There’s minimal wordage from the moment you log in. There are two main sections: “Friends” and “Noise”. In the friends section you will find your friends listed in nice, cute bubbles with the news feed to the right of them, which only shows posts from people you’re following. Everything else goes into Noise. Nice.

My second impression of Ello is that everything is very simple. A little too simple. The site features a lot of white space and no visible borders, leaving the user in a sort of nebulous floating space. On top of being none too crazy about the font choice, the reply features are faded out until you roll your mouse over them, so text seems to get lost in the vast emptiness of Ello. There is no like system that made Facebook famous, but you do get the number of views and the ability to comment. No longer will people be able to quantify exactly how much people like a post. I actually admire the omission of the “Like” function. It makes Ello a place for people, not businesses, and it’s the presence of businesses that turn social networks into advertising platforms.

Verdict: In its current state, I would describe Ello as a more social version of Tumblr with a sprinkle of Twitter.

Paid Features

The paid features aspect of Ello has given me pause. I’m curious to know exactly what features they plan to include, especially if they’re touting the whole “free-to-use” philosophy. Right off the bat I will guess that for several dollars (perhaps $4.99), you will be allowed to have additional invites so you can migrate more of your friends over from Facebook. I’ll even go as far as guessing that current beta users will be given extra invites as a thank you from the Ello admins. The upcoming features section has “Private Accounts” listed. I hope this will be a free feature and not something you have to pay for. I’m actually quite excited to see where Ello will go and how it will evolve as it gains more users. Make more videos! Keep us in the loop!

Social Logins: Who Did You Let In? [Stickied to Top Now]

social-login3Think before you click. If you shop online, you’ve probably seen it before: social login buttons that allow you to create a brand new account with a website without filling out the usual forms. If you thought voluntarily filling in those annoying little boxes with your personal information was getting a little too close for comfort, can you imagine the kind of information you’re giving up by allowing them access to your social media accounts?!

Let’s get one thing straight: unless you outright lied about every bit of information about yourself or fiddled around with the security options onfacebook-personal-profile-marketing-work-education-settings-public the social network account you’ve chosen to use at a social login gateway, you’re handing over all the information you’ve mistakenly (or unwittingly) marked as “Public”. This includes your birthday, Pages you’ve liked, friends you’ve connected to, everything on your wall, your personal websites, other social media account usernames you listed, etc. But you’re not the only victim here. Even your friends who have Public profiles will have their data collected simply because they’re connected to you. And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen: the nature of social media marketing as we see it today. Have you even read Facebook’s Data Use Policy?

This type of information collection has its drawbacks. You can’t filter out irrelevant data, and you’ll get tons of it in the dragnet. However, it will help build a scarily accurate portrait of individuals who have already signed up for your services. By logging in with your social media account, you’re doing the equivalence of clicking “Agree” in the Terms and Agreements segment of every piece of software you’ve ever installed without actually reading the Terms and Agreements. Once you put your data out there, it’s no longer yours to keep, alter, or hide. Think before you click.